The narrative of the film begins with an adult and a child entering a supermarket. They are together and appear like a father and son duo. They do not say anything but exchange glances and then proceed into the store only to go their separate ways in different alleys. Then the little boy clasps his hands and plays with his fingers in the manner of a sacred ritual. Seconds later he stealthily slips a packet into his bag and later puts some more packets surreptitiously. That sets the ball rolling for Director Kore-eda Hirokazu’s social drama, SHOPLIFTERS.
The story revolves around Osamu Shibata (Lily Franky) and Shota (Jyo Kairi), the father-son duo who were out shoplifting at the grocery store. On their way back home, they pick up croquettes and as they are sauntering down the streets on the cold winter night, they stumble upon Yuri (Miyu Sasaki), a four-year-old girl, abandoned by her parents and freezing on a balcony. Osamu’s big heart goes out to her and he carries her home for a hot meal where his mother (Kirin Kiki), his wife Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) and his other daughter Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) are waiting for them.
Initially, others in the family are reluctant to keep Yuri, but then seeing her with burn marks on her arms and happy in their company, they decide to keep her for good which would be tantamount to kidnapping. Yuri in their house serves as a catalyst where she loosens the family structure and secrets.
While Director Kore-eda initially presents us a politically correct image of a poor family, the paradox is that despite the sordid motives behind many of their actions, they are happy to acquire money by any means possible, including shoplifting, robbery, cheating, extorting or plain fraud, and they create a happier, saner home life for Yuri than her unloving, law-abiding and violent parents.
His direction is subtle, rich, clean and effortless and the natural performances underline the gritty realism of being a social outcast. The characters are all well-etched and despite their vices, they can’t be termed as bad people. And as secrets of the family unravel, we notice there is a kaleidoscope with a rich scale of greys that oscillate between love, selfishness, ambition and the need to be affected.
The narrative appears aimless, but as the tale unfurls, we realise the director takes his time to deconstruct the family image, and in this way shed the bonds existing between each family member through their day to day interactions. By the time we reach the end, the initial image of the happy family has been completely transformed and it is then that we realise that we barely know each of the characters in the story, with whom we spend almost two and a half hours.
Overall, this Oscar nominated film for the Best Foreign Film is a slow and deliberate eye opener about human frailties. [By Troy Ribeiro]