Lily Franky as Osamu Shibata
Sakura Andô as Nobuyo Shibata
Kirin Kiki as Hatsue Shibata
Jyo Kairi as Shota Shibata
Sosuke Ikematsu as 4 ban-san
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year, but don’t let that put you off — it’s a sweet, warm fable about an unconventional family of thieves living somewhere on the edges of Tokyo. In the opening scene, we find Osamu (Lily Franky), a middle-aged factory worker, and a young boy named Shota (Jyo Kairi) going through what is clearly a well-rehearsed routine, lifting goods from a grocery store. They each shield the other from the view of the shop’s employees and walk off with a nice haul, but on the way home they find a half-frozen four-year-old girl, fleeing her fighting parents, and take her home with them to their cramped apartment, as if she were just another can of lychees they had lifted from the grocery.
They scarcely need another mouth to feed — the flat, no more than a shack, is shared with Osamu’s wife, an older girl, a younger one, a son approaching adolescence and a grandmother whose dead husband’s pension appears to be the family’s main source of income — but the girl bears scorch marks on her body and shows no inclination to return home. So they keep her, just like that.
Shoplifters is based on a real news item, and Kore-eda’s subject, as in his films Nobody Knows (2004), Still Walking (2008) and Like Father, Like Son (2013), is families in all their shapes, sizes and infinite variety struggling to make ends meet. There is something distinctly Dickensian about the generosity of the director’s vision, from that Fagin-like father to the warm miscellaneous clutter of their apartment, which Kore-eda shoots as snugly as if it were a child’s playhouse.
Osamu’s family, it turns out, is every bit as makeshift as his dwelling. His wife works on a job-share scheme in a laundry and the girl performs in a peep-show parlour, but is the boy his son? If so, why does he wait for the day when he will call him “father”? And why does the grandmother talk of having “chosen” them?
All is revealed at the end, when an arrest finally unravels the family’s secrets. They’re no family in the biological sense, but you are never in any doubt that they share the love and loyalty of the real thing — and even put most proper families in the shade.
Review by Tom Shone, Sunday Times