Sunday, 22 July 2018

Shoplifters: NZIFF Review

Shoplifters: NZIFF Review

Shoplifters' tale of a Japanese family living in the slum downtrodden house is meant to shock from its beginning.

With the opening seeing a father and son stealing from a supermarket in a co-ordinated military style set of precision manoeuvres, we're thrown into the family world of the Shibatas.
Shoplifters: NZIFF Review

Living in low income and scraping by, the family's world is changed when the father brings home a little girl he sees living outside a house with no apparent parents nearby. As the girl doesn't want to go home and shows signs of abuse, despite the strain on the family, they keep her within their walls, a family giving love to an unknown.

However, that decision could prove as fateful as it will fruitful.

Subtle and perhaps aiming to provoke empathy throughout, without ever being manipulative Kore-eda's social eye on the affliction of some Japanese families is also a salutation to uncompromising love.

With her big eyes, and cute haircut, the abused little girl is never anything more than a tool to win over the audience, and to cast light on the insidious ways of abuse, so redolent worldwide that it hurts.

While there's humour in this social tale, there's also an undercurrent of anger that Kore-eda provokes in you that this family have to go through so much to just get by. But presented under a sunnier outlook, Kore-eda manages to make proceedings warmer than they perhaps should be, a chance to push a message in ways that could otherwise not work.

The Palmes D'Or winner Kore-eda Hirokazu's Shoplifting is a story that may move you, but ultimately, its last reel reveal feels cheap and easy, a narrative rug-pull aimed to disorientate and reassess.

What it actually does is make you question why some of the characters you've invested in over the past two hours don't do the one thing you'd expect them to. It's a unsettling turn and leaves an after-taste which is hard to shift (and which is too spoilery to discuss here).

While Kore-eda Hirokazu may wish to be saluting love and family in all its forms, and present a world similar to one glimpsed in Sean Baker's The Florida Project by centring on the children, Shoplifters' strength lies in its interactions within the family.

Some threads may go undernourished, and while the reveals at the end may pull together some of the looser ends, there are similar themes of family that Kore-eda has pursued before. Granted, this latest may see a more broken family than previously, but the social realism captured within is nonetheless heartbreaking throughout. And certainly the burst of consciousness and guilt is never belaboured throughout.

A thoughtful piece, but a flawed masterpiece to some, Shoplifters' strength lies in its willingness to expose the double standards of Japanese society - and ultimately, the hypocrisies and selfishness of us all.

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