Japan’s Kore-eda recreates Dickensian saga in Shoplifters
In all my 29 years at the Cannes Film Festival, I have seen only two movies that proved to be the darling of the critics as they did of the jury. Jacques Audiard’s 2015 French work, Dheepan, about Sri Lankan refugees and narrated in Tamil, as well as Hirokazu Kore-eda’s 2018 Shoplifters in Japanese. Both won the Festival’s top award, Palm dÓr.
If I remember right, Dheepan never travelled to India, but Shoplifters is arriving today — Friday, and will be screened at all PVR theatres across the country. With English subtitles, the film will be a delight to watch. I quite enjoyed it when I first saw it at Cannes, and my second viewing at Chennai the other evening was as enjoyable as my first.
Kore-eda recreates Dickensian characters. His Fagin is Osamu Shibata (played to unbelievable perfection by Lily Franky) and his little Oliver Twist is Shota (Jyo Kairi). Together, they shoplift and merrily so, piling up their loot in their ramshackle house, where their makeshift family lives. The man and the boy have a magical way of communicating with each other; they use sign language and subtle nods to warn each other about cameras in the shops where they venture for their sly scams.
One bitterly cold evening, Osamu and Shota find a little girl (Miyu Sasaki) shivering, and they bring her home, where the man’s wife, Nobuyo (Sakura Ando), cribs about having to feed an extra mouth. But when she sees bruises on the girl’s body, Nobuyo takes pity and decides to have her.
There are others in the house: Aki (Mayu Matsuoka), who goes to college but works as a hostess in her spare time. But the substantial part of the group’s income comes from Grandma (Late Kirin Kiki), who is stealing her late husband’s pension and freeloading off the man’s son from a second marriage.
But what comes as a shocker early on in the movie is that this cosy group of men and women are not a family in the real sense of the term. While Osamu and Nobuyo are actually husband and wife, the rest live with them, and are not related to one another. It is a group that has come together for an economic convenience. While Grandma’s money comes in handy, she herself finds the company of others reassuring (I do not want to die a lonely death).The rest of them benefit as well from this marvellous arrangement.
But then, this is too good to last forever, and like the pile of oranges that slips off the basket in a store, Osamu’s arrangement begins to develop cracks.
Beneath a great plot, Shoplifters is sad reflection of modern-day Japanese society, where employment opportunities are shrinking, and where economic deprivation stares in your face. The film is a brutal look at what families are facing. In an interview, Kore-eda had said that members of a family were not always, and no longer, bound by love, affection and a sense of kinship. He added that the inspiration for the movie came from news reports about how family members were cheating, abusing and even killing one another. So, it was crime that often tied them together.
Kore-eda’s work apart from being a magnificent study of interpersonal relationships in the family he creates – where there is a trace of kindness and kinship – is also a comment on the labour condition in Japan -- whose inhumanness and rank cruelty were driving men and women towards a path of misery and ruin.
Shoplifters is a great effort, and is narrated without any intrusive music – a horrible feature that mars most Indian films. Not to be missed this weekend.
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