There is a small selection of Japanese films at the Cannes Film Festival 2018 with two in the Competition section. The biggest name is Hirokazu Kore-eda who has appeared at Cannes six times in the Competition and Un Certain Regard sections, picking up the Jury Prize for Like Father, Like Son (2013). Due to his focus on families in films like I Wish (2011) and Our Little Sister (2015), he is often called the Ozu of modern Japanese cinema by critics and this one features an unconventional family by normal Japanese standards since it features a group of people living happily together on the margins through a mixture of grit and graft. Initially a gentle and heartwarming film, the tone changes as it shines a light on the failings of society and individuals. So, what are the highlights of the reviews?
万引き家族 「Manbiki Kazoku」
Running Time: N/A
Release Date: June 08th, 2018
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Writer: Hirokazu Kore-eda (Screenplay),
Starring: Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Kirin Kiki, Mayu Matsuoka, Kairi Jyo, Naoto Ogatam Yoko Moriguchi, Yuki Yamada, Moemi Katayama, Akira Emoto, Kengo Kora, Chizuru Ikewaki, Sosuke Ikematsu,
Synopsis: Osamu (Lily Franky) and his wife Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) live with their son Shota (Kairi Jyo) Nobuyo’s younger sister Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) and their grandmother Hatsue (Kirin Kiki) in a home behind an apartment. Osamu works as a day labourer but they rely on Hatsue’s pension and the ill-gotten goods they have from their shoplifting antics. They may be poor but they are happy. Their number is given an addition when, one winter, they find a girl named Yuri (Miyu Sasaki) in the freezing cold and take her in.
There’s a lot to unpack with this film and it’s partly down to the degeneration of Japanese society thanks to the pressures of modern life and selfishness/extreme emotions. My favourite review comes from my new favourite currently-writing critic Maggie Lee over at Variety who brings more insight into the origins and making of the film and applies it to the story.
“Koreeda’s sharp critique of labor conditions (not unique to Japan) are epitomized by a new initiative called “workshare”: Basically, workers are asked to alternate on half-day shifts so they’re paid less. The result is, in Osamu’s words, “everyone gets a bit poorer by the day.” As Osamu quibbles, stealing becomes the family’s subversive form of “workshare.” As the story progresses, theft doesn’t just involve taking money, it’s a defining act of existence in an emotionally deprived world…” Maggie Lee – Variety
More commonly, critics have lavished the film with praise for its depiction of an unconventional family, how the bonds of the heart matter just as much, if not more than blood. This is a callback to Kore-eda’s previous works and some critics have gone as far as to say it will do better than Like Father, Like Son. It’s down to Kore-eda’s talent for getting into the lives of his characters
“This small film is a thoughtful addition to his parables about happy and unhappy families (Nobody Knows, After the Storm), studded with memorable characters and believable performances that quietly lead the viewer to reflect on societal values.” Deborah Young – The Hollywood Reporter
“It is a movie made up of delicate brushstrokes: details, moments, looks and smiles…” Peter Bradshaw – The Guardian
“…this outstanding domestic drama, crafted by Kore-eda with crystalline insight and an unsparing emotional acuity, and shot in a way that finds breath-quickening beauty in an untidy living room or a faded corner shop.” Robbie Collins – The Daily Telegraph
“…you’d have to go all the way back to the haunted social-realism of 2004’s “Nobody Knows” to find another Kore-eda film that stings like this one — that so lucidly vivisects the loneliness of not belonging to anyone, and the messiness of sticking together…” David Ehrlich – IndieWire
It all comes down to the fact that Kore-eda allows his cast the space to feel their characters and gradually bring them to life and when you have great actors like Sakura Ando, Lily Franky, Kiki Kirin and couple them with Kore-eda’s ability to find and work with brilliant child actors, you’ve got dynamite.
“Some of the credit must go to the stellar casting and performances. It’s difficult to single out one of the six actors in this alternative family unit as it’s a true ensemble display. But Kore-eda’s deft command of tone is a key factor too in a film that may turn out to be one of his most exportable.” Lee Marshall – Screen Daily
The overall message is that this is a family drama, a sense created by the set-design made to make the ramshackle home of the characters fun and the enjoyable ensemble cast, which makes people feel positive before a change of tone for the ending and that it’s powerful stuff. And it also has Kiki Kirin and that’s always a good thing.
“It’s certainly in the upper echelons of the director’s back catalogue, even if there’s some noticeable straining to retain a sense of levity through the darker passages… the intuitive ensemble work and the way he captures domestic scenes are as impressive as ever, and the cherry on top is another film-stealing turn from the great Kirin Kiki as – you guessed it – a kindly granny.” David Jenkins – Little White Lies