SHOPLIFTERS**** Slow but Rewarding

(JAPANESE) DIRECTOR HIROKAZU Koreeda’s keen, leisurely observing eye is not one to be rushed. This is a slow, gentle tale that has its own rhythm; one that’s very far away from the kineticism of most Western drama. Either you enter into Koreeda’s flow or the subtle undulations of the tale will escape you.

The story centres on a family that exemplifies what family life is all about. They live comfortably together, pull together, share meals (noisily slurped down), are easily forgiving of each other’s minor peccadilloes and revel in their frolicsome seaside holidays. Dad is the hardworking centre of this group, keen on passing on his specialist knowledge.


And here’s the rub: this family lives in a dirt hovel. They’re a diverse group of mainly unrelated individuals who have fallen together. When we meet them, they’ve just rescued Yuri, a hungry, cold child, recently escaped from a relatively richer, but abusive family and hiding behind a dumpster. The contrast is obvious: one group is poor and unrelated by blood; father and ‘son’ are thieves, ‘daughter’ is a comfort girl in a peep show emporium, ‘mother’ is a factory hand and granny is a (mysterious) income generator. What binds them together is their shared humanity and a massive sense of mutual caring. One particularly strong theme (for which the director is well recognized) is the vital sense of the father/son relationship.

Legally, they’re outlaws, unlike Yuri’s dysfunctional, abusive family who really aren’t that concerned that she’s disappeared. But they’re a socially sanctioned legal entity

So, just what is “family”?

The movie brings us into the everyday seaminess of a hidden side of Japan, one of the world’s richest countries. But Koreeda eschews any trace of ideological anger (indeed, the authorities when we do meet them are unfailingly polite and decent). It’s as though he (and by extension, we) has entered into the kind of Zen acceptance of his protagonists. There’s no room for angst. This is simply how life is. Now, let’s make the most of it. Like dad, they’ve all sought and found the ethical escape clauses for their ‘deviant’ behaviour. As dad sees it, theft from a store isn’t really theft, as the stuff doesn’t as yet really have an owner. Since no one’s harmed, no crime has been committed.

And in that spirit of acceptance, we accept that it’s weird but OK to secretly bury a loved one; and to bring no judgement to someone whose income stream comes from (quasi) masturbating in front of strangers.

It’s as though, harmony and love really is all you need.

Now there’s a radical thought

The problem with the movie I found is that the evocation of the story’s core idea: here’s an “ordinary” family group living a life they deem ordinary, can just be a bit boring. It may be Koreeda’s idiosyncratic, and thematically necessary rhythm. But it’s a very slow rhythm, and I kept wishing they’d get on with it.

That said, this is an engrossing, convincing and heartfelt drama…one well worth its many plaudits


SHOPLIIFTERS. Dir and Writer: Hirokazu Koreeda (After The Storm, Like Father, Like Son). With: Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Mayu Matsuoka, Jyo Kairi. Production Designer: Keiko Mitsumatsu