Palme d’Or to Kore-eda's "Shoplifters"

The Palme d’Or recipient at the 71st Cannes Film Festival went to Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters from Japan, made by Fuji Television Network. The aesthetics of the film clearly contributed to its win in May, an interwoven
narrative on what constitutes a real family to family members and how the state defines it. Many of the scenes are shot in the claustrophobic home of senior widow Hatsue Shibata (Kirin Kiki) a veteran actress who died in September after the prestigious award for this film. Kiki plays an elderly woman who complains about her age spots and who sees over her makeshift family that bear the surname of her late husband. 

Set in Tokyo living conditions for low income dwellers necessitate cramped living places such as this dark two-room dwelling of about 247 sq. feet. There are five people under this roof, who often sit around the table eating noodles, soup, and fried food with smacking sounds as they chew and slurp their meals. Hatsue lives on a pension that is only 500 dollars a month and winnings from pachinko games. In these rooms are piles of unsorted clutter – toys, clothing, stolen goods, dishes, and a closet with a sliding door where 11-year Shota lives. Shota was found by– Osamu and Nobuyo ,who are not his real parents, in a car parked outside a pachinko hall. The couple have been acquitted of murdering Nobuyo’s husband in a crime of passion. They raise Shota under unique conditions. They teach him that children go to school because aren’t able to be taught at home.

When Osamu and Nobuyo discover Yuri a five-year-old girl playing on her own on the balcony with sounds of her parents fighting a with spousal abuse they take her home. We learn her real mother buys her dresses after she is hit , who in turn is hit by her husband.

Daily life for this newly formed family consists of finding financial support. Also in the family is the young Aki who works in a no-touch peep show dressed as a school girl. Hatsue’s income is augmented by Osamu’s and Noboyo’s jobs. Aki does not have to pay says her grandmother Hatsue. The children usually steal food and household products but Osamu and Shota work together for bigger jobs like stealing fishing rods.

Throughout the film Kore-eda uses symbols of the ocean to illustrate how the family operates as fishermen throwing their lines to sea to catch fish. Fishing tackle is kept in the house. Shota reads a textbook called Swimmy about a school of fish that beat up a tuna. Later Yuri illustrates her new family at the seashore where they go on an outing.

When Shota is involved in an accident after stealing in a dept store, child welfare services are called and eventually the makeshift family is discovered. The questions the state representatives ask are indicative of how one is raised in society where parents report missing children, and children go to school. The questions asked jar with the spectators understanding of what is really going on in this family, for most of the questions are based on a provincial and clinical morality. Nobuyo insists they have not kidnapped Yuri who wants to stay with them, for they have not imprisoned her or asked for ransom.

Shoplifters addresses the question what is a real family ? Before the turn of events it is clear that the bond between this family is respectful and loving, but their families of origin have been abusive. Aki is rejected by her father and his new wife, as was Hatsue. All are united not by money but by survival and protection of each other to alter the cycle of abuse they have experienced as children and adults. 

© 2018 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 05/23/18
Movie Magazine International