Starring: Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Mayu Matsuoka
Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
Running Time: 121 mins
Shoplifters is a Japanese film about a poor family who rely on shoplifting to keep afloat, until their situation changes with the arrival of a lonely little girl who they decide to take in under their wing.
From the director of some of the most powerfully immersive Japanese dramas of recent years, including Our Little Sister and Like Father, Like Son, comes yet another impressively intimate and engrossing piece. Although Shoplifters often doesn’t quite have the consistent dramatic bite of Koreeda’s best works, it’s a film full of depth and intrigue throughout, as well as strong emotion that, although coming about slowly, makes for a riveting watch.
Let’s start off with the film’s first act, which is the most pointed social comment, looking at how many people in modern society are still really struggling to make ends meet, even when living right within a community of wealthy neighours, just hidden away from the eyes of society.
It’s a very interesting and true premise, something that the excellent Tokyo Godfathers also makes mention of, and gets the film off to a strong start, bringing striking real-world relevance to the table within seconds, and with the addition of themes of homelessness, domestic abuse and more, there’s real depth right from the beginning here.
However, while all of that may make the film sound rather depressing, the great thing about Shoplifters is that it also looks at some beautiful and uplifting themes, with familial love in the face of adversity right at the centre, as well as the concept of community, no matter how small, both of which are just as present in the film as its grittier topics, and as such make for just as heartwarming a watch.
That first act is really impressive in that regard, and features great drama throughout, however the film hits a frustrating obstacle in its second act, that there just isn’t the same degree of conflict as the story struggles to keep renewing your intrigue. That’s not to say that it’s dull, but with a very slow pace, a quiet, scoreless atmosphere, and a relative lack of dialogue, a story with relatively less powerful drama really proves difficult to be fully engrossed by.
If you struggle with slow, quiet films, then the second act of Shoplifters may prove a frustrating watch, but if you stick with it, the third act brings back the excellent contrasts of positivity and gritty reality, and proves a heartwarming and riveting end to the film, complete with a good few surprises that bring a lot of unexpected energy to the table.
Unlike the likes of Like Father, Like Son, Shoplifters isn’t the most consistent film, and that deeply intimate drama takes a hit when you’re not fully engrossed, given that the immersion aspect of Koreeda’s films is so important, however that doesn’t mean it’s not an enthralling film, as Shoplifters still features some fantastic sequences and riveting drama throughout.
Finally, looking at the performances, they also emulate the film’s strong contrasts of bright and dark drama. With our main characters having taken to shoplifting to keep afloat, you feel strong sympathy for them given the desperate nature of their situation, as well as their clear care for one another in their very small community, something that lead actors Lily Franky and Sakura Ando in particular bring to the fore brilliantly, all the while maintaining a small but clear element of moral uncertainty, leaving their characters riveting to follow throughout.