WHAT comes to mind when you think about Japan? Booming economy? Friendly relations with? Funny way of writing? Funny kind of language?
Bet you’d never list poverty as an important Japanese characteristic. But writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda has made a beautiful, sympathetic film that for much of its 120 minutes shares a derelict, single room with a Japanese family calling itself Shibata, the younger members of which are not related by blood to each other.
Such plot as the film has concentrates on five-year-old Yuri whom father and 12-year-old son Shota bring into the house after finding her hiding in a cold alleyway. Miyu Sasaki plays this child with amazing gravitas.
The grandmother is the family’s strength, observing events non-judgmentally. Sisters who may well in time become sex workers learn that trade without physical contact. And Shota takes enthusiastically to being a skilled shoplifter.
What happens? Daily poverty almost without exception. Will filmgoers find that tedious? Quite probably. Persevere. Rewards will develop. Does the relative absence of morality, judgement or standards imposed by the community at large carry a message? Yes. But the film is in no haste to introduce those themes. And for good reason. Koreeda is telling us that their absence is to nobody else’s detriment, that while it may be beneficial to impose a majority view, a fringe minority may be free to develop a separate set of values.
“Shoplifters” sets out from its beginnings to tell us that. Moving slowly with low-excitement levels, it has a wonderful ability to send us out feeling emotionally and even spiritually well-nourished.
At Palace Electric and Dendy