Writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda popped onto my radar in 2013 when “Like Father, Like Son” premiered.
The film was beautiful and heart wrenching and really brought its audiences to struggle with societal norms in a way that was unique and refreshing. Now, six years later, after a few other films have been added to Kore-eda’s repertoire, “Shoplifters” graces the screen in an equally riveting, simultaneously upsetting way.
No one in the Shibata family is actually related. They are a piecemeal family, coming from different walks of life, drawn together by love and a need to get by. Osamu (Lily Franky) and Lin (Sakura Andô) claim the roles of mother and father, while Aki (May Matsuoka) and Shota (Joy Kairi) assume the roles of children and Hatsue (Kirin Kiki) as grandmother. The Shibata family works together to survive, cobbling their rent together with various jobs that the adults can manage, while covering the other essentials by shoplifting—a secret family trade that is passed on to the children, allowing even them to have a hand in the survival of the family.
The Shibata family is brought even closer together when they introduce another child into the mix. Yuri (Miya Sasaki) is the neighbors’ severely neglected little girl. Her parents constantly leave her on her own for hours on end and treat her horribly when they are home. When Osamu and Lin bring Yuri home one night for dinner, she never goes back. “It’s not kidnapping,” Lin insists, noting that there’s no ransom.
“Shoplifters” is a beautifully executed struggle with life and ideals, denouncing the idea of black-and-white morality and making the conflict as shaded and complicated as possible. As we get to know the Shibata family, it becomes harder and harder to see them from a societal perspective. Instead, we see from their worldview, feeling the love that they have for one another and the reasoning behind why they do what they do. “Shoplifters” is a story about need and want and the alluring nature of the family unit, but it is also a story grappling with the question of what is right.
Each actor in this ensemble will win your heart over with their personal journeys, though specifically Franky and Andô make the film. And from the film’s cast to its slowly unfolding, captivating story, it is no wonder that “Shoplifters” was nominated for an Oscar.
Kore-da has made another masterpiece, and it can only be hoped that he continues to helm films that make us think.
“Shoplifters” plays this month at Midtown Cinema, 250 Reily St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.midtowncinema.com.