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Shoplifters (A Movie Review)

Updated: Sep 27, 2023



Starring Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Jyo Kairi, Miyu Sasaki, Kiki Kirin, Mayu Matsuoka, Kengo Kora, Chizuru Ikewake, Sôsuke Ikematsu, Yôko Moriguchi, Yuki Yamada, Akira Emoto, Naoto Ogata and Moemi Katayama.

Screenplay by Hirokazu Koreeda.

Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda.

\Distributed by Magnolia Pictures. 121 minutes. Rated R.


hoplifters has been getting such accolades – including winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes – that I went into the screening really expecting to love it. Turns out I was sort of wrong. I kind of liked it, though it went to too long, was a bit too slow and not nearly as surprising as the film’s cheerleaders have been claiming. That said, it is a gritty, hard-hitting film and an indictment of the way we overlook the impoverished. It did not live up to my expectations – which granted, may have been too high – but it had some very good parts.

Shoplifters is a look at a three generations of a poor family unit in modern Japan – though the term family is used a little loosely here. It is a nuclear family, held together by necessity as much as blood.

They live in a small, secluded apartment which looks almost like a big tree house. Due to a constant lack of funds and jobs, each member – from the aging grandma to the youngest little girl – helps the group survive through differing forms of petty crime.

The grandmother Hatsue (Kirin Kiki) works a bit, but she mostly survives off of her late husband’s pension. Mom Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) spends her days working at an industrial laundry, but also has some hustles on the side. The oldest daughter Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) works as a “model” in a booth at a sleazy lingerie club – though you get the feeling that she will go further than lingerie for the right payment. And the usually unemployed construction work dad Osamu (Lily Franky) takes the two youngest kids – Shota (Kairi Jō) and Juri (Miyu Sasaki) – to stores to shoplift goods for the family to use, or to sell.

Juri is not actually part of the family unit. She is a little girl that Osamu and Shota run across when running some of their scams. Juri was being abused and then abandoned by her parents, so Osamu and Nobuyo decide to just take her in. Of course, they never go about any of the technicalities of trying to adopt her, they just bring her home and keep an eye on her, as well as teaching her to become a cute little thief. Whether this is adoption or kidnapping is in the eye of the beholder.

Then again, we learn as the movie goes on that all of the members of the family have more complicated connections than we originally thought.

Writer-director Hirokazu Koreeda does not judge these people. They are doing what they have to do in order to survive. They have been forgotten by society, so they must make do the best that they can.

It sometimes feels like a modern, Asian take on Oliver Twist.

The acting is terrific. The cinematography is pretty stunning. There are some interesting twists in the storyline. I just wish it didn’t move so slowly. Also, where the film arrives, while sad, is less of a surprise than you would expect. The movie is good, but somehow it feels like it could have been even better.

Shoplifters tells a trenchant and tragic story about a heartbreaking inequality in modern society. I totally respect writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda’s attempt to give names and faces to an invisible, forgotten segment of society. I just wish I could say I liked the movie more than I did.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: December 6, 2018.

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