★★★★ - STUFF
- Japanese writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda has developed a reputation as the modern-day Yasujirō Ozu.
From I, Wish to Our Little Sister, the prolific 56-year-old film-maker has crafted a series of compelling contemporary dramas looking at the mores and maladies of modern life, just as his predecessor did back in the 1950s with movies like Tokyo Story and Floating Weeds.
For his efforts, Kore-eda has earned an army of admirers around the globe, many international prizes and, in 2018, the prestigious Palme d'Or for this latest work Shoplifters.
Set in the less-than-affluent neighbourhoods of Tokyo, it's the story of three generations of the Shibata family. Crammed together in a chilly, tiny space, everyone tries to contribute to the household's costs. But with Osamu's (Lily Franky) day labouring work opportunities not consistent and Nobuyo's (Sakura Ando) housekeeping work low-paid, they are increasingly reliant on the family matriarch Hatsue's (Kirin Kiki) pension, daughter Aki's (Mayu Matsuoka) "modelling" and some five-fingered discounting.
It's after one of their frequent supermarket "visits" that the pair encounter a little girl looking forlorn outside one of their neighbouring apartments. Hearing her warring parents and observing what look like signs of abuse, Osamu decides that, rather than take her back, they will take her in.
Equally shockingly, no visit from the mother, father or the authorities is forthcoming for two months. When the latter eventually do show up, police think her parents have killed her, but as the Shibatas' lies, secrets and deceptions begin to pile up, it will take only an unfortunate accident for everything to be at risk of exposure.
As with Kore-eda's previous efforts, which also include Like Father, Like Son and After the Storm, Shoplifters is a sumptuous-looking, languidly paced, lovingly created gentle drama that deceptively packs a powerful narrative punch.
The cast are uniformly excellent, imbuing their complex, flawed characters with real humanity, while there's a real sense of place and space created by Kore-eda's use of hand-held cameras and natural lighting.
While perhaps not quite as absorbing as the likes of Like Father or Little Sister, this is nonetheless another superb example of Kore-eda's ability to weave a very Japanese story that has global appeal.
- James Croot, Stuff