Review – Poignant drama ‘Shoplifters’ explores the meaning of family

Poster for 2018 Palme d'Or winner Shoplifters

Genre: Drama
Certificate: 15
UK Release Date: 23rd November 2018
Runtime: 121 minutes
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Writer: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Starring: Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Kairi Jō, Miyu Sasaki, Mayu Matsuoka, Kirin Kiki, Sosuke Ikematsu
Synopsis: A father and son team of shoplifters living in a crowded house with their family take in a mistreated little girl.



Earlier this year, Hirokazu Kore-eda‘s Shoplifters left the Cannes Film Festival with the top Palme d’Or prize, riding high on a wave of five-star reviews. The film has now arrived in UK cinemas and, six months on from its premiere, it retains a great deal of emotional heft and power. Kore-eda’s movie examines the very nature of family and whether the old maxim about how it’s impossible to choose family is actually true at all.

The movie’s exploration of the family unit begins with father and son thieves Osamu (Lily Franky) and Shota (Kairi Jō). They steal food and supplies from supermarkets, communicating with a series of concealed hand gestures. On their way home one day, they discover a small girl (Miyu Sasaki) who appears to have been shut outside her house in the cold. Osamu brings the girl home to his wife Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) and family matriarch Hatsue (Kirin Kiki) and they decide to take her in, despite their cramped conditions and difficult life of poverty.

Shoplifters is a plot-light adventure and one that focuses heavily on the plight of characters forced into conditions that have spiralled out of control. Franky is terrific as a man on a knife-edge and Ando is even better as his put-upon wife, juggling the immorality of their work with the necessities of supporting her family. A late scene in which the camera holds on her face packs an entire movie’s worth of meaning into a wordless scene of pure acting. These characters are criminals, but they’re never bad guys, speaking to a moral quandary that feels similar to the one at the centre of Kore-eda’s previous work The Third Murder, albeit one driven by character rather than genre.

This is a film driven by its characters and the struggles they face to balance their existence in adverse circumstances. Kore-eda packs the story with rich detail, from a scene of carrier bag keepy-uppies to a very real depiction of the difficulties faced by a long-term married couple who are unable to find the time and space to be intimate with each other. These characters lead textured, complicated lives and Kore-eda creates real charm and warmth in the way he depicts them.

Shoplifters does ramp up in its third act, delivering a succession of gut-punch revelations that reshape what has come before. But what’s most important is that none of that reshaping changes the essential emotional core of the story being told, and that feels like the thesis Kore-eda is most interested in conveying. He perhaps over-eggs that particular pudding with a coda that seems to stretch for a little too long, but that doesn’t ever manage to dilute the power of a story that gets its claws deep into your soul in order to tug at your heartstrings most effectively.

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

In the varied cinematic oeuvre of Hirokazu Kore-eda, family is almost always a central point of discussion. Shoplifters interrogates the very notion of the family unit, exposing its influences both for good and for bad while never soft-pedalling the harsh realities of a life outside of privilege.

The performances are fantastic, the storytelling has real charm and the narrative revelations are executed well, even if they’re not necessarily surprising. It’s a movie that knows which buttons to push and has a great time pushing them.


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