Academy Award Nominee for Best Foreign Language Film from Japan

In its quiet, achingly tenderhearted way, Shoplifters suggests that we’re born into families of strangers (or worse) and that we find our true families, the people who genuinely care for us, among strangers we meet in the world. It presents a clan of con artists as a force for love. It’s willing to consider the moral upsides of petty theft and kidnapping. It’s in theory the worst ‘family movie’ of 2018 – and in practice one of the year’s best films, earning its director Hirokazu Kore-eda (Nobody Knows, After The Storm) the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes.

Poster for the award-winning drama ShopliftersThe first thing we see is a father, Osamu (Lily Franky), encouraging his young son, Shota (Jyo Kairi), to boost a few items out of an urban supermarket. On the way home, the two notice a five-year-old girl, Juri (Miyu Sasaki), shivering with cold on a locked balcony. Her parents are nowhere to be seen. Why not take her home? They take her home.

Home is a poverty-row hovel so cluttered with people and things that your eye roams in vain for a place to rest. Osamu has a wearily cynical wife, Nobuyo (Sakura Ando), who has a grandmother, Hatsue (the vetern Kirin Kiki ), on whose pension they all seem to rely. There’s an aunt, too, or a sister, named Aki (Mayu Matsuoka).

Kore-eda lets us into the heads of all the characters, but the key performance – one to treasure – is Ando’s as the mother, whose heart is the hardest and therefore thaws the most dramatically. The family feeds the little girl they’ve found, pausing to notice the scars and burns on her arms. At one point, Osamu and Nobuyo carry the sleeping Juri back to her own house. As they stand outside listening to the parents scream insults at each other, Nobuyo slumps to the ground, stunned at the force of sudden maternal protectiveness she feels. They bring the girl back to their place. It’s not kidnapping if you don’t ask for ransom, is it?

Of course, we know the real world will crash in, but the shock of Shoplifters is the resilience of its characters and the way the tendrils of affection, once forged, prove devilishly hard to prune back. Maybe that’s Kore-eda’s sentimentality coming to the fore. Or maybe it’s just the hope he knows we all need to keep moving.

– Ty Burr, Boston Globe

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