My wife and I had just seen the movie Shoplifters (Manbiki kazoku) at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany. A young woman of our acquaintance said, “I don’t know why it got such positive buzz. I thought it was meh.”
I totally understood. The film was a little slow to develop, and even at the end of the two hours, we had questions about the various relationships. Yet we thought it was very much worth seeing.
The story involved a Japanese family with the folks generally underemployed. Some of them resort to… well, see the title… to survive. There’s a code that comes with such thievery, which is that while it’s still in the store, it’s not really stealing.
Their lives get complicated when they find a young girl stuck outside in the cold. They take her in, and are surprised that, at first, no one reports her missing. She begins to learn the family “trade”.
One takeaway is the notion of what constitutes family. The father discusses the boy’s adolescent urgings in a way I’ve never seen before in cinema, precise but not too complicated.
This is a film by director Hirokazu Kor-eeda, whose work I am totally unfamiliar with. He seems well-regarded, with all of the films he wrote and/or directed as least 85% positive in Rotten Tomatoes. Shoplifters is 99% positive with the critics. The performances were strong.
The predominant description of the movie in reviews is that, in many ways it feels Dickensian, like a fresh take on Oliver Twist, as one put it. I’m not sure I would have come up with that parallel myself, but it’s not inaccurate. Why else would we be rooting for, at some level, people who are regularly breaking the law?
Shoplifters will be available on DVD on February 12. I’d be interested in the opinions of others on this movie from Japan which was nominated as Best Foreign Film for this season’s Oscars.