The concept of family is one that has become incredibly flexible and redefined over time. Director Hirokazu Koreeda has always been fascinated with analyzing what families are in his films. His latest project, Shoplifters, might give an emotional answer to his question like no other philosopher or filmmaker could have done.
Shoplifters is set in present-day Tokyo, and focuses on a group of six outcasts who live together in their own make-shift family. The story begins when the patriarch of the family (Lily Franky) takes in a young and absolutely adorable girl named Yuri (Miyu Sasaki). We then are able to see how the different members of the group make their living, with many of them earning their keep by stealing mundane objects from stores; thus the film’s title.
The film’s greatest achievement is in its crafting of characters. In reality there isn’t much plot, with the majority of the film unfolding as an analysis to who each member is. The movie is thus structured into sections where we see our individual characters trickle out information about their past and motivations. The whole cast turn out incredibly endearing performances, and yet they’re able to give certain depth that distinguishes each family member as well as humanizing them.
While Shoplifters might on the surface appear to be a depressing film about poverty in Japan, the actual tone is a much lighter and uplifting one. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a comedy, but there is never really a moment where the film inclines you effuse pity. One subtle scene shows the family enjoying fireworks solely based on sound; their shack is too obstructed for them to get a proper view of the show and thus they imagine the shapes and lights that each explosion makes. It’s this structure of little vignettes, showing the pursuit of joy in the face of scarcity that gives this film its true power.
The ending might seek to tie up a bit too many loose ends, but it is a proper and necessary epilogue that wraps up the journeys of such winning characters. The analysis of family, along with such a warm structure and fabulous performances makes Shoplifters a true delight to watch.