Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Starring:  Lily FrankySakura AndôMayu Matsuoka 

Release Date: November 23, 2018

Foreign-language films have made their case this year for not just best in the category but also for Best Picture. Like Mexico’s beautifully shot Roma and South Korea’s slow-burn mystery thriller Burning, Japan’s Shoplifters should be in the conversation for the Oscar’s top prize with these other great foreign-language films.

Director Hirokazu Kore-eda tells the story of an unconventional family living in a tiny shack that steals groceries, toiletries and anything else they can get their hands on as a way of life. 

The story picks up when the father, Osamu, and 10-year-old Shota find a young girl shivering outside her house. They notice she’s skinny and has scars on her arms, so they decide to take her back to their house for food and shelter. It’s not for another few months that the young girl, Juri, appears on the news as missing. After deciding it’s too late to simply return the child (she also has abusive parents) the family decides it’s best to cut her hair, change her name and teach her the family trade of shoplifting.

Much of the movie follows the brother-sister relationship between Shota and Juri. The arrival of the young girl initially makes Shota jealous and resentful. As time passes we see their bond grow as Shota takes on the older brother role. They spend their time wondering the streets and occasionally shoplifting. Highlighting this relationship is just one part of what makes Shoplifters memorable and shows us the human element that exists in this struggling family.

As more is revealed about each character you think back to lines in the movie that you didn’t question at first glance. The way Kore-enda peels back the layers on each character makes for a stressful experience. As we see the well-meaning characters make some questionable decisions we begin to ask more questions about their past. Our characters never seem concerned about being caught or with the consequences that could come with it. Watching the movie you have the sense that this way of life could all come crashing down with one slip-up stealing oranges from the grocery store.

Without question, the theme in Shoplifters is family. The power of sticking together through poverty, neglect and even legal troubles to make ends meet and stay together is on full display. It explores the idea of choosing your family and the love that comes with that. The story of this unconventional family of misfits will have you in tears by the end.

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