Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Palm d’Or-winning drama Shoplifters may not quite live up to the standards associated with that prestigious award, but it’s nonetheless a subtly powerful look at kind people who take unusual means to survive.
In following a makeshift family composed of seemingly related individuals, the master writer/director offers a fresh spin on his usual soulful exploration of average citizens encountering significant changes. Basically the Japanese Mike Leigh, Kore-eda’s commitment to telling these stories is commendable and has helped him carve out a distinct cinematic niche that makes the release of each new work a major artistic event.
There’s a heartfelt comfort in watching these normal people just trying to get by, working legitimate jobs but also engaging in behavior that gets them classified by the titular word. The thefts could easily make them dismissible as petty criminals, but thanks to another kind of taking — in the form of bringing a neglected small girl (Miyu Sasaki) into their care, and the understanding of how preteen Shota (Jyo Kairi) joined the fold — the clan’s humane core instincts become brilliantly clear.
Yet after such a strong opening, issues surprisingly arise through the style with which married couple Osamu (Lily Franky) and Nobuyo (Sakura Andô) have their secret past unearthed. While the events that bring about the revelation arise organically, the blunt presentation clashes with the preceding smooth storytelling, though even in this relatively rough patch, Shoplifters remains a fairly enthralling view.
Grade: B-plus. Rated R. Starts Dec. 21 at Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: Magnolia Pictures)