万引き家族 「Manbiki Kazoku」
Release Date: June 08th, 2018
Duration: 121 mins.
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Writer: Hirokazu Kore-eda (Screenplay),
Starring: Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Kirin Kiki, Miyu Sasaki, Mayu Matsuoka, Kairi Jyo, Yoko Moriguchi, Yuki Yamada, Moemi Katayama, Akira Emoto, Kengo Kora, Chizuru Ikewaki, Sosuke Ikematsu,
Hirokazu Kore-eda is often compared to Yasujiro Ozu due to his depictions of families in Japan but he is quite political. Through various detailed tapestries of the rich and poor, nuclear and unconventional family units and different individuals, he has charted a myriad of lives all over the archipelago of his home nation and captured the changing dynamics of a country where tradition, social mores and people’s bonds are seemingly degrading as society adapts to new ways of thinking about work and family and people live atomised lives. Shoplifters tells the story of a most unconventional family by normal Japanese standards and, in so doing, it offers some quite stringent critiques of the exploitation of labour, the indifference of authorities and the resulting breakdown of relationships. It is a refreshingly open politicisation of content for a Japanese mainstream film and it feels akin to the social realist films of Ken Loach. This political bite could partly be the reason why the film went on to wow critics and net the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival but, as in all Kore-eda films, it is the performances that sway hearts and make audiences cry.
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 ramshackle home hidden behind a modern apartment. It’s a small patch of the past, a borderline derelict two-storey house from before the 80s with torn shoji and frayed tatami. It’s not uncommon to see some old post-war building sitting next to something ultra brand new in Japan but their home is in a parlous state. Too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer with holes here and there, it is clear that they are living sub-standard lives and yet they have each other and that is clearly enough as they get on well.
Do the parents have work? Yes, of the most menial sort. Osamu is a day labourer and Nobuyo works part time in a laundry. Aki earns money at a JK club where she strips for money, and Shota, well, he is young but doesn’t go to school. The money they have is not enough to cover the cost of living so they rely on Hatsue’s pension and a scam she has where she cons her ex-husband’s second family to give her handouts. To get more goods they resort to shoplifting. They steal cheap essentials from cup noodles and fruit to shampoo with the occasional luxuries to brighten their day. If it isn’t in somebody’s home, then it isn’t wrong to take it, Osamu reasons. Corporations can lose a couple of hundred yen here and there. What they steal, they share with others without a second thought and that seems to make their antics kind of okay.
Into this happy family comes a newcomer. One winter, after a shoplifting excursion, Osamu and Shota find a young girl named Yuri (Miyu Sasaki) huddling near trash outside the neighbouring apartment. It is freezing cold and Japanese winters can be brutal so they take her home with them lest she freeze to death. It is almost like they are shoplifting her. They know her to be a victim of abusive parents and so one night in the warm turns into something longer due to sympathy and care and Yuri becomes their new family member, not least for Nobuyo who recognises signs of physical violence and works to draw the girl out of her shell. They rechristen her Rin and Shota shows her the shoplifting ropes while the others spoil her with treats. “We’re all connected by the heart,” Osamu says. Indeed, for a family that lacks so much, they compensate with a lot of warmth for each other and giving to their loved ones is in each of their natures but Yuri isn’t an object and in taking her, they risk exposing secrets at the heart of their family…
How they live is, quite frankly, going to be alien to many audience members as they filch and cheat and live a couple of levels above squalor and yet that standard of living, though extreme, can be witnessed in some areas of Japan where people have fallen on hard times and Kore-eda wants to point out the way society is fraying thanks to bonds between people turning sour and the working class being exploited by big capital and we see that exploitation.
There is strong criticism of working conditions in Japan through witnessing Osamu, Nobuyo and Aki’s jobs, the former building fancy new homes that he and his family could never hope to earn but doing so in a role with a distinct lack of protection for workers which is revealed when he gets into an accident. Nobuyo is forced to accept worsening conditions such as a work share where “everyone gets poorer” through having their contracted hours cut. Aki is turned into a commodity. The genius here is that Kore-eda shows how it is all standardised and perfectly legal and going on in real life and we see how it feeds into their fractured lives so we understand how a new underclass of people living on the margins of society can come about.
For all of their cheating, society is cheating them even worse. The unfairness leads to the shoplifting and their petty crimes seem less offensive because, as far as the hardships endured by the characters, it’s the least immoral thing going on. And yet justice will have to be served.
We know that an end will have to come because Yuri’s parents and the police look for her and there is a growing sense of a reckoning in store for this family who live outside of society, not least because Shota begins to question Osamu about just how ethical their lifestyle is as the older man begins to get more brazen about what he takes. This cues up heartbreak and Kore-eda milks out as much as possible by showering the audience with images of warm family life and cute criminal enterprise over the seasons. Yuri pinches sweets in the summer before chasing cicadas with Shota and going to the beach with the family. At each step Yuri changes into a happier person and bonds with the others and our sympathies become entrenched with the titular shoplifters, especially as Yuri finds happiness and opens up. As Kore-eda layers so many sequences of care and attention where we see the characters appear to support and love each other, we enjoy and empathise and leave ourselves open for a devastating end which twists a knife into the audience’s heart by presenting a situation that some may be able to guess but not the full extent and that is down to the performers really coming together.
Lily Franky and Kirin Kiki, both Kore-eda regulars, deliver performances that make us love them. Franky essays an easy-going person of questionable morals but a good heart so well that we cannot hate him no matter how cowardly he is while Kiki is divine as the savvy matriarch who shows time-won understanding of human nature that helps others out. Sakura Ando is the real stand out. We knew she could act as a result of 100 Yen Love with her messy character becoming a disciplined hero through sport and she has a delightfully fun comedic presence in the musical-comedy For Love’s Sake but she becomes really multifaceted here with the hard exterior she presents concealing a delicate layer of love and sensuality and care which she shows at different times to different characters. In a case of getting the best out of his child actors, the performances from Kairi Jyo and Miyu Sasaki are pitch perfect as we see them acting way past the point of innocent and they grow up before our very eyes and really inhabit their roles. We care for the kids who are the most vulnerable and Miyu Sasaki’s reactions to abuse and care are heart-rending. This allows the film to deliver a couple of gut-punches to underline how the state really doesn’t care for citizens.
In his depiction of an unconventional family, Kore-eda tackles familiar issues of family bonds and how what is sanctified by the state and pushed by the media is sometimes more poisonous to an individual than the love offered by alternative families as seen in Yuri’s case. Family is a matter of the heart just as much, if not more than blood. It also addresses issues of class in society in a forthright way. This is, currently, the apotheosis and refinement of Kore-eda’s oeuvre and his talent for getting into the lives of his characters and the actors brings the situation to life in the most moving of ways. In short, Shoplifters is one of his best.