In theaters: A review of SHOPLIFTERS

By Josh Morris

Upshot: This Japanese film (originally titled “Manbiki kazoku”) centers on a stitched-together clan of small-time crooks who take the risk of harboring a young girl — named Yuri — they find outside in the cold, even as their own struggle for survival is faltering. It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2018, and deservedly so. It has been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 91st Academy Awards.

High-point: actress Sakura Andô. She is both hilarious and heartbreaking as Nobuyo Shibata, a tender woman who is deeply affected by the introduction of Yuri into her life. Ms. Sakura portrays Nobuyo’s profound transformation with masterful skill. Bravo!

Low-point: the pacing. This is not a major criticism; however, Shoplifters is the rare film which may have been improved by an extended run-time:  the warmth between these characters grows at a simmer for the first 100 minutes, followed by quick and somewhat arbitrary evaporation during the last ten. If there was a message underlying this swift devolution, it wasn’t apparent; things, therefore, play out anticlimactically. The audience would have benefited from seeing each of them grapple longer with the reality that their established way of life has come undone.

Rundown: all the actors (including young Miyu Sasaki) give incredibly nuanced and powerful performances; they curate an empathy for these individuals who are eager to initiate relationships, doomed as those relationships will most likely be. It’s a rich ensemble; one which the film, truly, couldn’t do without.

This film takes place over the course of a year, and director/writer Hirokazu Koreeda uses the seasons to explore the development of our protagonists: sometimes their development mirrors the seasons and sometimes it contrasts them — summer at the beach is their happiest time, but their affection blooms fullest in autumn.

The same is true of the geographics: this “family” lives in squalor together in the slums of the city, though they are capable-enough thieves to never go hungry. The setting makes us question their lifestyle as much as their kindness does: why are people clearly capable of doing the right thing living this way? Are they criminals for the fun out of it (like those in Ocean’s Eight)? Or did they simply decide not to question their lot in life, pursuing as moral a path as possible?

In certain moments, Hirokazu hushes their chaotic existence so the audience is able to breathe easy, calmly observe their bonds strengthen and assemble pieces of their history. This is further enhanced by the cinematography of their home (a tight enclosure) and the surrounding area; we get to know both the characters and Japan’s own characteristics.

Moreover, the score by Haruomi Hosono is an achievement unto itself.

This film will be released on DVD later this month.

Rating: 6/7

I felt the love!

Post-script:

Good luck at the Oscars! You deserve the recognition!

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