Saturday, February 23, 2019
OSCARS 2019: Shoplifters (2018)
Cannes Film Festival seems like this mysterious event happening in a far away land. While the Oscars generally award highly marketable or at least easily accessed motion pictures, the top prize awarded at Cannes usually goes to foreign language film. While a Best Picture win causes a movie to go down in cinematic history, the Palme D'or winner are often forgotten or at least overlooked. At least, that's how it seems to be in American film fandom. Maybe it's different in Europe. This is my long-winded way of introducing “Shoplifters.” A Japanese film, it won the Palme last May and is now nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. Some are saying it might even have a chance to win the honor.
Somewhere in Tokyo lives a family. Father Osamu, mother Nobuyo, and step-sister Aki all have menial jobs – and grandmother Hatsu's pension – but it's still barely enough to make ends' meet. In order to further provide for themselves, the entire family shoplifts food and other goods. After a successful night at the grocery store, Osamu and son Shota spot a little girl shivering in the cold. After discovering that her parents beat her, the little girl is adopted into the family. Changing her name from Yuri to Lin, she quickly becomes part of their life. The group live their lives, challenges and joys arriving. As Shota begins to feel uncertain about the shoplifting life style, secrets are revealed.
As “Shoplifters” go on, you get the idea pretty quickly that everyone came to this family the same way Yuri/Lin did. Aki is the black sheep of her family, rejected in favor of a more successful younger sister. Shota was stolen by Osamu out of a car he was locked in. Hatsu is a lonely old woman that took them all in. As with Lin, they changed their names upon being accepted into this make-shift family. Unlike their birth families, which were neglectful or abusive, this is a family they all chose. When inevitable loss arrives, it's exactly the same as loosing a loved one. Though some of them, Shota especially, are reluctant to accept this connection, it is the make-shift heart that drives “Shoplifters.”
I haven't seen any of Horikazu Kore-eda's other films, though many of them are well regarded. Based on the merits of “Shoplifters,” I'm willing to say this guy knows what he's doing. This is a powerful film, poignant and gritty but frequently very funny. You grow close to this cast of characters quickly, relating to their struggles and cheering for their small victories. (The extremely talented cast helps a lot.) Roger Ebert said that movies are empathy generating machines. “Shoplifters” is a great example of this principal, being one of the most humanistic and touching films I've seen in recent memory. [9/10]