Shoplifters is a new film by Hirokazu Koreeda (Nobody Knows). The story follows a family of small-time crooks whose world is turned upside down when they take in a child that they found outside in the cold. It won the Palme D’Or when it debuted at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and is Japan’s official submission into the Best Foreign Language Film race in the Academy Awards.
This movie contains many scenes of sharply-written dialogue. The way in which the characters interact feels so natural even though the situation in which they find themselves is so bizarre. Even more impressive than the dialogue, though, are the nonverbal communications between the characters. From the opening scene, we see that they have basically invented their own language of hand gestures, which makes the film more believable.
The pacing is strong too. There is a good balance between the slow, contemplative moments and the more intense family drama. This keeps the story thoroughly interesting. Leading into the last thirty minutes of the movie, there is an intriguing tonal shift. Surprisingly, this is not jarring.
That being said, the film did not have as much emotional resonance as it seemed to want to have. Certain aspects of the plot landed really well, but the impact of the main storyline was hindered by some of the underdeveloped and unimpactful subplots. Some of the members of the family were far more interesting than others.
The characters could have used more development, particularly those with smaller roles. For example, the character of Aki shows quite a bit of promise, but many aspects of her story are not fully explained. Had the movie been twenty to thirty minutes longer and developed some of the supporting characters even further, it would have been even more satisfying.
The acting is phenomenal, though. The entire ensemble is great, but Kairi Jö is perhaps the most impressive in the cast. He is extremely talented, especially for someone so young. His emotional range was great, and his ability to carry the film was surprising. Lily Franky and Miyu Sasaki are also great in their roles.
Additionally, the execution is quite strong. The visuals are absolutely beautiful. Although the film’s subject matter is somewhat bleak — a family living in poverty — it is well-lit and steadily-shot. This gives the movie a dreamlike feel, emulating childhood innocence. The score complements the film very well too, further developing the surreal feel.
Overall, Shoplifters was solid, but it wasn’t the masterpiece that some are hailing it to be. Had the characters been more fully-developed, the movie would have been more emotionally resonant.
Shoplifters is now playing in select theaters.