Friday, January 4, 2019

Shoplifters (万引き家族) - Movie Review

The Movie: Shoplifters (万引き家族)

The Director: Kore-eda Hirokazu

The Cast: Lily Franky, Sakura Andô, Mayu Matsuoka, Kairi Jō, Miyu Sasaki, Kirin Kiki

The Story: A family of small-time crooks take in a child they find outside in the cold.

The Review:
Shoplifters is a movie unlike anything you have ever seen. The story is about a group of small time criminals who have banded together out of necessity and are always looking for the next place or person to steal from. What makes the story so brilliant is how director Kore-eda Hirokazu portrays them first and foremost as a loving, caring family who are struggling and doing everything they can to survive. The disruption to their routine comes as they decide to take in a new member when a four year old girl is found out in the cold, hungry and scared for her safety.

Every member of the "family" is horribly flawed and has been a criminal in some capacity their whole lives and, knowing nothing else but how to steal, cheat and scam, they have completely normalized this lifestyle for themselves. At one point, the father figure of the family who is played by veteran actor Lily Franky, is asked why he teaches the children how to shoplift and his response is that he doesn't have anything else to teach them. This moment really adds a punctuation to what the film makers are trying to get across, that there are people living next door, down the street, and in every neighborhood who have been forced into an existence of crime, poverty, and constant danger.

When people think of human trafficking, they think of evil men with drugs and guns forcing kids into a slave trade but really, it comes in all forms and a lot of times doesn't seem like trafficking at all. When the family takes in the young Yuri, played by Miyu Sasaki who is maybe the cutest little girl you will ever see, they actually have a discussion about whether or not they are kidnapping or trafficking and ultimately come to the conclusion that they are protecting her from an even worse circumstance and acting out of a twisted sense of decency and nobility.

As the story unfolds, Hirokazu reveals more and more about who each of the individuals are and how they came to be in this situation and that unfolding of all the unfortunate layers of life is where the movie really shines. Lily Franky plays his character as a sort of unassuming every man yet you get the idea he is also always scheming and planning as he sort of bumbles his way through life. There is an intimate scene between his character and co-star Sakura Andô's that is filled with some truly amazing subtleties and a current of emotion that builds up the intensity and urgency of their relationship in a very unexpected way. This is also a bit of a turning point for the whole group as the difficulties of their situation also begin to come to a head and decisions must be made about their collective future.

While the movie is a brilliantly designed ensemble piece, I feel like the one person who shines above the rest is the aforementioned Sakura Andô as Nobuyo, a woman struggling with every decision and responsibility she has chosen to take on. At times, her character is a bubbly young woman without a care in the world but then, in other moments she is forced to be a mother figure to the kids and especially to Yuri who she ends up desperately caring for as if the little girl represents a life Nobuyo will never have a chance to fully realize. By the end of the movie, her story had the most impact and I began to consider where Sakura Andô might fit in among my favorite performances of the year.

The Verdict:
Shoplifters is a uniquely powerful look at the concept of family and how director Kore-eda Hirokazu brilliantly deconstructs what we have always believed that should look like. The story will give you a lot to absorb and process and is the type of movie that will stick with you for a long time. The more I think about it, the more I am able to appreciate it and it is quickly evolving into one of my favorite movies of the year.

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