Director Hirokazu Kore-eda has made some of the best portraits of humanity for over two decades. These are stories of human beings in constant states of emotional and physical limbo that seem rare, honest, and fresh. They also describe certain parts of society that are usually and often overlooked in film. These amazing films include After the Storm, Still Walking, Nobody Knows, and Like Father, Like Son. However, I think his wonderful 2018 masterpiece, Shoplifters, is where he has reached his zenith.
The film takes place in the margins of Tokyo, where a dysfunctional "family" of misfits makes ends meet by working two-bit jobs and daily sessions of shoplifting. During one of their usual routines of petty theft, they come across Lin, a little girl freezing in the cold. At first, they're unwilling to take her in, but seeing the emotional/physical trauma and scars she has received from her abusive parents, they agree to take care of her. Soon after, she is taught on how to successfully steal without getting caught and actually becomes very good at it. The group is poor, but they seem to be content with how things really are and try to make the best of it. Things go on nonchalantly for awhile, but after the grandmother dies, and young son Shota is arrested, they are forced to admit secrets from the past, such as the fact that the couple in the group murdered a man out of self-defense and buried him, and that Shota is not really their son. After these events, the mom ends up in prison, the dad moves into a tiny apartment, Shota ends up in foster care, and Lin is forced to go to back to her horrible parents. But after through the many hardships they have faced, they learn that love defines a family, not blood.
I fell in love with the fact that the sentimentality is kept at bay and how Kore-eda knows when to restrain it. You don't question nor judge the characters. You go along with them on their journey to what they think is happiness when there really isn't. The humor comes from pain, the honesty becomes more and more apparent, and the amazing actors in the film put you in the middle of the action. It's as if you know them personally and lovingly.
As much as I loved the film, the DVD itself is rather underwhelming. There are no special features whatsoever. However, after you put in it, you get trailers of Kusama Infinity; The Guilty; Bad Reputation; Love, Gilda; and I Wish. For a film this sublime, I was hoping that it would have been released by Criterion or Arrow, but I guess that's the way it goes.
Last year was a particularly remarkable year for film, and Shoplifters is definitely no exception. It's a stunning, at times disturbingly truthful experience of graceful and moving filmmaking that will stay with you long after haunting final shot. It was one of the very best films of 2018. Quiet, compassionate, rich, and enlightening doesn't begin to describe this incredible cinematic achievement. Please see this film!