By: Henry J. Fromage (A Toast) –
Hirokazu Kore-eda has been a Cannes favorite for many years now, and a master of a distinctly humanist brand of filmmaking for years before that. Shoot, getting my mind blown and hearstrings tugged by After Life was a formative college experience for me, and I’m no spring chicken.
Seriously, give this a shot.
Shoplifters is about, well, a family of shoplifters living on society’s margin in Tokyo, scrounging for odd jobs and five finger-discounted convenience store food but displaying a joie de vivre many a suburban family doesn’t. Their lives are turned upside down for both good and ill when they take a skinny little girl in, and keep her once it becomes obvious that her seemingly unfit but very much biological parents are looking for her.
Kore-eda’s been in the family drama/tearjerker business for decades now, but Shoplifters saw him finally reach a pinnacle of filmmaking- receiving the Palme D’Or at Cannes. It’s not hard to see why this film was singled out for that higher level of accolade- Shoplifters may well be a distillation of all he’s achieved so far. He populates the film with a mixture of professional and non-professional actors and centers much of the first half of the film on the small joys and disappointments of family life, but when he pulls the string of his plot in the third act you realize just how deftly he’s set it, and you, up for heartbreak and, then, hope.
I won’t go into the twists of the film, which aren’t the most modest of his oeuvre, but which feel organic and true to life no matter how sensationalized another director could have made them. The core of the film is the family, and the question of what really makes a family- blood and genes, or shared experience, hardship, and happiness- in a word, love. This feels like the central question for his whole body of work, and the pursuit of an answer what drives it. As you mull over these remarkable characters and the remarkable performances that enliven them, you’ll be hard-pressed to identify a film which has made you ponder the human condition quite so much as this one.
Shoplifters is an uplifting, tragic, joyful, and heart-rending portrait of a particular kind of family and the peculiar lengths one might go to make one.
Shoplifters (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: anytime anybody steals
Take a Drink: every time Grandma does or says something adorable
Take a Drink: whenever Yuri’s parents are shown or referenced
Do a Shot: for every family revelation after the jig is up