Another title for Shoplifters could be Multitaskers because shoplifting is only one thing they do to get by. This Palme d’Or winner is a portrait of a family that asks questions about what actually constitutes a family.
Osamu (Lily Franky) and Shota (Jyo Kairi) have a system for shoplifting. There could be a whole movie focused on their system of signals and creating distractions, but there’s more. Shoplifters follows every member of the Shibata family on their day jobs, staying off the grid and taking the work they can that way, never enough to raise eyebrows. For example, Sayaka (Matsuoka Mayu) works at a peep show.
When they meet Yuri (Sasaki Miyu) starving in her window, they take her in. That complicates matters when Yuri is reported missing. But Yuri’s family hit her, on top of starving her. So is Yuri’s family her biological one, or the one that loves and supports her? Yuri is also an asset with some clever tricks to aid the shoplifting portion of their income.
Every once in a while Osamu lets something slip that reveals they’re covering something. Those secrets will come out eventually. Again, Shoplifters asks what makes a family? If you’re happy, what’s the harm in living this way with someone else? But what if what seems happy on the surface is covering up something dark underneath?
The answers are for the audience to discuss after the film, although Shoplifters is not one of those ambiguous art films. It provides a resolution to its plot, but the questions are a little bit bigger than simply what happens next.
Shoplifters is touching. The Shibatas do feel like a loving family, and they are self-sufficient. They’re not asking for charity, although the shoplifting part is hurting local businesses. I’m against stealing, but I do understand finding a way to work the system in your favor.
The performances feel very natural, especially the children, but the adults feel like they have history we didn’t get to see. Director Kore-Eda Hirokazu presents everything matter of factly in straightforward frames. You’re a fly on the wall in this family’s life.
Since it won the top prize in Cannes, there’s bound to be plans for an American remake where the family try to pull off one last score so they can disappear from society. Michael Bay can direct that, but until then we have this human story of petty crime and family bonds.