‘Shoplifters’ Will Steal Your Heart

An ensemble cast lends authenticity to Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters.” (Photo: Magnolia Pictures)

In the tender Japanese family drama “Shoplifters,” from renowned master filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda, Osamu and his son Shota shoplift basic necessities in order for their family to survive. Returning home one night, they notice 4-year-old Yuri, alone and freezing on the patio of her apartment. They take her home and this is where the story begins.

But “Shoplifters,” which Fresno Filmworks screens on Dec. 14, is no fairy tale; in fact, the story was inspired by a local news story. While most people would agree that shoplifting is a crime, our values are tested as we watch Osamu and Shota steal, not for pleasure but for survival.

Their family of five live in a cramped, poverty-stricken apartment; there is neither the room nor the food for one more person, even a small child. It is only after Osamu’s wife and grandmother notice the burns on Yuri’s arms that they are moved to “adopt” her into their family. She is one more mouth to feed, but their need to protect her overrules any rational thought—including the harsh truth they are kidnapping her.

“Shoplifters,” which won the Palme d’Or award at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and is Japan’s 2019 Oscar selection for Best Foreign Language Film, asks the audience to ponder whether it is wrong to steal Yuri away form her abusive parents and offer her a home filled with love and laughter. Watching her emerge from her shell and attach herself to each member of the family forces us to examine our own moral compass. We must ask ourselves if their altruistic motive is justification for taking Yuri from her parents. At the heart of this nuanced film is Osamu’s statement that, “Sometimes it is better to choose your own family.”

Many of Kore-eda’s films are centered on themes concerning family. His highly acclaimed film “Like Father, Like Son” – which served as the opening night selection of the 2014 Fresno Film Festival – won the prestigious Jury Prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. The film caught the attention of Steven Spielberg, who was then president of the Cannes jury. In 2014, DreamWorks Studios acquired remake rights to the film, although a release date has yet to be set.

When Kore-eda was asked in an interview with IndieWire if he was worried about his film being remade, he said no; in fact, he encouraged Spielberg to adapt it for American society. Spielberg’s response was, “No, I’m trying to keep it as ‘Japanese’ – that is, as close to the original – as much as I can.” Kore-eda’s final verdict: “Whatever happens, I trust him.”

Kore-eda has become a master at crafting relationships that are complex and honest. His ability to coax natural performances from his actors, especially the children he casts, imbues his storytelling with an authenticity that allows the audience to engage with their minds and their hearts. “Shoplifters” will touch your soul, but it will also break your heart.

Cindy Peters Duzi serves on the Filmworks board, and she teaches high school English. She blogs about cinema on her Instagram.