Dir: Hirokazu Kore-eda. Cast: Lily Franky, Mayu Matsuoka, Kairi Jyo, Sakura Ando, Kilin Kiki, Miyu Sasaki. Cert TBC, 121 mins
The Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda is best known in Britain for his keenly observed tales of the consolations and heartbreaks of ordinary family life. Shoplifters, which screened in competition at Cannes this morning, initially appears to be more of the same – except it’s hard to fathom how its family members connect. The age and gender spread of the Shibatas is nothing suspicious: there is a man and a woman, a little boy, an older girl and a much older lady, all living in a rented bungalow tucked out of sight in the Tokyo suburbs.
Yet much like the state of their house itself, which is piled high with crumpled clothes and cartons, there is something unplaceably ramshackle about this group’s living arrangements. “We’re related here,” Osamu (Lily Franky) tells young Shota (Jyo Kairi), patting his heart, “but not here,” he adds, pointing to a lower body part. So what is going on?
That mystery ticks away like a watch in the breast pocket of this outstanding domestic drama, crafted by Kore-eda with crystalline insight and an unsparing emotional acuity, and shot in a way that finds breath-quickening beauty in an untidy living room or a faded corner shop. The story begins with the loveably down-at-heel Shibatas discovering a five-year-old girl foraging for scraps on a fire escape. Her name is Yuri (Miyu Sasaki), and when Osamu and his partner Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) come across her on a late-night stroll, they take her in as another couple might a stray pet, filling her empty belly with hot croquettes and gluten cake.
Otherwise, they barely scrape by on what should be more than enough: Nobuyo and Osamu’s earnings from their jobs at a laundry and building site, plus the pension payments chipped in by wily grandmother Hatsue (Kirin Kiki). The older girl Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) works at an odd red light district venue, stripping for clients who are only murkily visible on the other side of a two-way mirror, although she is permitted to keep her wages for herself.
By observing the Shibatas going about their strange, below-radar existence against the always pertinent backdrop of the changing seasons, Kore-eda returns to the questions of survival on society’s margins and the nature and durability of family bonds which he previously examined in Nobody Knows (2004) and Like Father, Like Son (2013). But as more details of their curious circumstances come to light, these themes take some thrillingly unexpected turns.
By Robbie Collin, FILM CRITIC