Winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes last May, Shoplifters from Hirokazu Kore-Eda is a lovely, sad joy of world cinema, like so many of his previous films. Still Walking and Nobody Knows are my favourites of his, and Shoplifters shares their yearning sense of family, connection and being lost in the big city.
A Fagin-like chap takes in a cold waif and names this poppet of a six-year-old girl Juri. His family, all living in a tiny hut with lots of sliding doors and mats, take to her as well, despite having another mouth to feed, and soon she’s joining the collective’s older boy Shota on petty thieving sorties to the local shops.
The grandma stays at home to fend off local councillors who suspect she no longer lives alone and doesn’t deserve the state pension.
Of the two other women, whose relationship I couldn’t quite figure out, one works in a soft-core peep show, the other in a laundry, where she rifles through pockets to pick up unconsidered baubles.
The pace is unhurried, every shot and detail is delightful, building up to a climax that explains something – but not everything. Kore-Eda sees humanity in all things but is aware of fate’s cruelties and the heartlessness of modern life, where tragedy and pain are always just a turn of the wrong corner or a twist of fortune away.
Shoplifters works a cinematic sleight of hand (the opening sequence has something of Bresson’s Pickpocket) and masks its emotional profundity in smiles and trinkets but somehow, by the end, you look around and it’s stolen away your heart.