Hirokazu Kore-eda is one of the handful at the very top of the current cinema. Hardly a less than superb film throughout a near thirty year career making thirteen features, half a dozen documentaries and two television series. He has developed a reputation in recent years that centres largely on the considerable number of films in all formats he makes about ‘families’- very broadly defined.
There have been exceptions. Hard to call Air Doll (2009) about families. Or for that matter the beloved Afterlife (1998). That remains the director’s greatest film and a masterpiece to be savoured again and again is about the moments that follow death and for most of course, especially the religious, it’s a moment to contemplate reunion. And, I haven’t seen his recent thriller The Third Murder (2017) which I am told popped up and out in a local Japanese Film Festival following its screening at Venice last year. Who knows about that one.
But Shoplifters (2018, Palme D’Or Cannes) is almost an ironic riff on his reputation and his alleged ‘theme’. The ‘family’ is slowly revealed as unconnected by blood, except remotely, a gathering of people who try to escape poverty almost spontaneously, organically, forming a group to cope with the tribulations daily visited upon the poor, each member playing a role from a Granma playing on ex-husband’s son’s guilt through to a once neglected and abused near babe who is brought in and quickly starts to learn the signals to indicate a shoplift is on the go.
|Lily Franky, Kairi Jō, Shoplifters|
At various times Kore-eda has tended to show off his skills by effortlessly knocking out a Mizoguchi movie (Hana, 2006) or an Ozu movie (Still Walking, 2008). I have a feeling that in fact he is rather more of a Kurosawa – an eclectic selector of subjects, almost all of them deeply humanist fables by a director relying on a stable and, in the Japanese studio manner, only slowly changing his cast of regular actors. His frequent recent choice of the eccentric Lily Franky (Like Father, Like Son, 2013, Our Little Sister, 2015, After the Storm, 2016 and Shoplifters, 2018) is like a code allowing us to track through the director’s most sentimental films.
Shoplifters is engrossing and the exposition of the story, particularly the destruction of the ‘family’ unit by relentless police interrogation is handled in a manner that reminds of the beginning of Afterlife, actors speaking direct to camera with no cutaways to their interlocutors, moving the narrative at breakneck (for Kore-eda) speed.
A minor work by a master. A full house sat enthralled.