Combustible Celluloid
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With: Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Jyo Kairi, Miyu Sasaki, Kiki Kirin, Mayu Matsuoka, Kengo Kora, Chizuru Ikewake, Sosuke Ikematsu, Kairi Jo
Written by: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Directed by: Hirokazu Kore-eda
MPAA Rating: R for some sexual content and nudity
Language: Japanese, with English subtitles
Running Time: 121
Date: 11/23/2018

Shoplifters (2018)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Thieves Like Us

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda is probably the closest thing to the spirit of Yasujiro Ozu we have, having made several beautiful, contemplative stories about families of all sorts, and especially non-traditional families. For his newest film, Shoplifters, which won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, he has gone back to a kind of messagy storytelling, evident in my least-favorite film of his, the otherwise highly acclaimed Nobody Knows. But this time, he has more effortlessly entwined his message and the emotional centers of his characters, and it flows smoothly, even if it's often rough going.

Shoplifters concerns a group of folks that live together in a cluttered bungalow, getting by however they can. Osamu Shibata (Lily Franky) takes young Shota (Jyo Kairi) for a shoplifting excursion for food. On the way home, they find a small girl (Miyu Sasaki) and decide to take her in; they bring her home, only to overhear her fighting parents and then take her back. Also in the bungalow is Osamu's wife Nobuyo (Sakura Ando), their teen daughter Aki (Mayu Matsuoka), and granny (Kirin Kiki), who collects some kind of quasi-legal pension. These folks are not homeless. They all have jobs — Osamu is injured on a construction site and is denied worker's comp, Nobuyo works in an industrial sewing shop, and Aki actually works as a kind stripper — but their paychecks still aren't enough. So the shoplifting puts food on the table.

The drama surrounds the discovery of the little girl, now renamed "Rin," as missing, threatening the fragile existence this family has built up. Meanwhile, Kore-eda beautifully lays out the nuanced relationships between the players over the course of many months. As easy as it is to be appalled at the horrible conditions that caused this situation, it's just as easy to become involved with the characters and their little triumphs and tragedies.

Magnolia released a bare-bones DVD in early 2019 (no Blu-ray). It includes a batch of trailers and ads at startup, but nothing else. (Even the subtitles are not optional.) The transfer looks fine, but given Kore-eda's grim tone, it's not exactly the kind of movie that will make a system pop. Recommended nonetheless.

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