Shoplifters steals your heart and uplifts your spirits through an endearing family drama. Director Kore-eda has done it again. Another searing family interconnected through intricate life experiences that shape their very own characteristics. To put it simply, this is a stunning piece of cinema. Heartwarming as it is thought-provoking. Social commentary as it is dramatic. Entrancing as it is contemplating. It acts as another pillar of excellence within Asian cinema, cementing the industry as one of the best. A poverty-stricken family regularly steal products from shops through an ornate method of hand gestures. One night they encounter a young girl locked outside of her house, to which they decide to bring her back for the night so she doesn't freeze, ultimately realising that she succumbs to abuse. They decide to keep her.
Kore-eda offers an honest portrayal of low-class civilians within urban Japan, having to make ends meet in order to survive. A humanistic juxtaposition of the cold neglect from socially accepted behaviour with the warm contentment from dishonesty. It raises several commentaries on poverty, morals and Japan's increasing levels in crime (particularly shoplifting).
But the most provocative message, which only comes into fruition within the third act, is the concept of motherhood. There's a poignant line that Kore-eda inserts that resonated with me almost instantly. "It is assumed that you become a mother automatically after giving birth." That, right there, is a summary of Shoplifters. A brutal realisation of maternal qualities that vigilantly keep families under control. Individuals can misuse power and avoid responsibilities by abusing their children, but that doesn't make them a mother. Motherhood is warmth, heart and soul. Despite Nabuyo's unfortunate situation, she and the remaining family members have their hearts in the right place. The lack of funds only acts as a diminishing plot device that crafts the claustrophobic environment they reside in.
In the end, Kore-eda's screenplay questions the idea of what makes a family, and he explores various answers through honest emotion. The clarity in characters, domestic drama and the environment, felt that it formed directly from Kore-eda's heart. Again, much like 'After The Storm', it's personal and personable. Needless to say I could go on endlessly dissecting various lines of dialogue. "Don't make your sister do it", "Sometimes it's better to choose your own family" and "If someone hits you and tells you they are doing it because they love you, they are a liar". This underlying sense of ownership for both material possessions and individuals, it just bursts through the screen instantaneously. Passion. That's what Kore-eda excels at. Showing passion.
The cast give outstanding performances and allow the narrative's themes to come to life. Franky and Ando were mesmerising as the adult figures within the family, guiding their children with a dishonest yet harmless approach. Ando in particular gives massive complexion to her character that really shines during the third act. Kiki, in what was her final performance, was beautiful as the matriarchal representation of grief. The children, especially Shota and "Lin", gave convincing performances and equalled their adult counterparts eloquently.
My only criticism would be that the character of Aki was underdeveloped and did not have enough screen time in comparison to the other family members. Scenes involving her provocative work lacked the finesse and power that the rest of the film prevailed in.
Fortunately Kore-eda's precise directing style meant that the overall tone and message never diminished. Wonderfully clean long takes that enable the characters to naturally converse with each other unedited. Ryuto's cinematography was gorgeous as well, capitalising on the flourishing urban environment. On a technical level, this film is perfect. And, the more I reflect upon its entirety, the more I want to give it the perfect rating. However, due to Aki being a forgettable character, I just can't. That does not take away from the resonating experience that Kore-eda has lovingly produced. Heartwarming, endearing and emotionally involving. Shoplifters is a work of thematic art.