‘Shoplifters’ Offers a Warm Gaze Into Relationships
These simple lines in the much-loved animated film Lilo and Stitch have so much depth. Similarly, the frames in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s films might be ordinary, but hidden in them lie some extraordinary emotions that require to be explored. His latest, Shoplifters, that won the Palme D’or at Cannes last year and that had its official India release last Friday (5 June), is no exception.
The film opens with a father-son duo standing in a departmental store. They make some gestures, and in a few heartbeats the boy lifts a few packets of noodles and other eatables off the shelves and shoves them inside his bag. A piercing truth that they are doing this to survive another day. It’s freezing, and while heading back home, the duo find a five-year-old girl sitting outside her house, shivering. She is too scared to speak to a stranger, but when a kind hand extends a warm croquette the kid finds it hard to resist.
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Abused by parents who considered the child an unnecessary burden, Yuri steps into a world that embraces her with love and compassion. The family is small - there’s the wise old grandma-like figure Hatsue (Kirin Kiki), whose somewhat handsome pension feeds the mouths, a man Osamu (Lily Franky) who is a labourer, but deft at other things. Then there are two women- Noboyu (Ando Sakura), who spends tired days at a mundane laundry, while the beautiful Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) works as a hostess in a club frequented by men seeking paid pleasure. The young boy Shota (Kairi Jyo) loves to read and believes that schools are for those who cannot study at home. They inhabit a dilapidated matchbox they call home. And it’s perfect.
But there’s a nagging tension to the tale as we are not told how these people are related. It is only when Yuri (Miyu Sasaki) enters that secrets begin to unravel. And that brings us to the recurrent theme in Kore-eda’s works - what actually constitutes a family?
In Like Father Like Son, a businessman, after finding out that his child was swapped with another family’s kid, urges the parents to allow the boys to switch houses for a few months. Four half-siblings are left to fend for their own after their mother abandons them in Nobody Knows. Likewise two brothers are separated in I Wish. In one of the most striking scenes in Shoplifters, Noboyu lights a fire and brings Yuri close to her to keep her warm. “Your parents lie when they say that hidden in their abuse is love. You don’t hit someone when you love them”, she says while hugging Yuri tight, tears streaming down her cheeks. The silence that ensued spoke volumes that words could never have conveyed. A reinforced belief that the ‘chosen’ ties are much stronger than the ones handed over by destiny.
Food and death are some other symbolisms that run through Kore-eda’s body of work. Croquettes bridge the gap between Yuri and Osamu, while the gluten cake she gulps down from grandma’s bowl helps forge a bond between her and the old lady. Then there are ice candies. A shopkeeper catches Yuri trying to steal things, but instead of scolding her he hands the sweets to Shota, saying, “Don’t make your sister do it.” The kind gesture left a deep mark in the boy’s heart.
In another brilliant scene, Noboyu and Osamu relish cold noodles in a humid and cloudy day. As the rain teared through the clouds, the fire of passion was rekindled. Food plays an important role in Our Little Sister too. As three siblings try to accommodate their orphaned half-sister into their family, plum wine, fried mackerel and other delicacies bring them closer, helping open up conversations.
Then, death. A tragedy upsets the ecosystem of the ‘family’ in Shoplifters. They don’t even have money to bury the body, so they dig up a ‘coffin’ in the washroom. Ironies of life. The passing away of the father propels the plot forward in Our Little Sister and Hana.
All the actors are terrific, buy Sakura Ando steals the show. She happily ‘lifts’ clothes for Yuri from a glitzy shop, softly tends to her bruised heart and tells Shota - as long as the store does not go bankrupt it is okay to steal things. She battles her conflicts with calm resilience, and emerges as the strongest of the lot.
The relaxed pace in Shoplifters gives us the time to penetrate through the layers of the characters. Blue is a warm colour here. Towards the end, Yuri sketches one of her fondest memories - jumping in the water with her new family as the waves of the sea lash against her tiny feet.
However, the final half an hour or so took away the charm of the sensitive first half. The film offered a closure I wasn’t expecting. Some things are best left unsaid, like the final couple of shots. One child looks out of a balcony, while the other turns his gaze back. Both their lives have undergone a drastic transformation, something they were not looking forward to. Take some time out and watch this film.
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