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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Shoplifters won the 2018 Palme d'Or at Cannes - The film is utterly transporting – but Kore-Eda never telegraphs where the transport is going.
It's set in a traditional Japanese house, but this one is stuffed to the gunnels with junk, much of it stolen. It's all petty crime but everyone in the family does their bit. The father Osamu has a method for robbing grocery stores with his son Shota, who's about 10. His wife Nobuyo works in a commercial laundry, nicking stuff as she finds it. Her sister Aki dresses up as a schoolgirl for men who like to watch in sex shops. Grandmother diddles the social security department.
The home scenes are raucous, full of laughter and slurping of food. These people are poor, but they seem to get on. When Osamu and Shota find a small child hiding outside her house in winter, they bring her home. Yuri has been beaten and neglected, so they keep her.
Slowly, Kore-Eda takes this far from where we might have expected to go. Blood does not bind them so much as kindness and care, and a fair bit of larceny. It's a beautifully strange melodrama that rattles the mythologies of what a Japanese family is supposed to be.
But it is not just a question of Osamu finding redemption in doing good, nor is it a simple irony in Osamu’s crook-family fulfilling the function of the social services and the caring state – the state that would disapprove of and indeed prosecute Osamu, if it knew what he was up to. The point is that Osamu has, in his amoral way, stolen Juri in just the same way as he steals everything else. And it isn’t the first time he’s done it. His ambiguously benevolent abduction of Juri is part of a larger pattern of concealment in which the whole family unit is involved. Nothing is what it seems.
It is a movie made up of delicate brushstrokes. A rich, satisfying, simple and spellbinding film, complex and accessible, specific and universal.