Shoplifters (Shoplifting Family)

The premise of the film is that a family of thieves kidnap a young girl and adopt her – they turn from stealing things to stealing people. You could extend the thieving metaphor to the entire family. They are not related by blood – their bonds are formed by money and necessity. But this is Kore-eda's 'socially-conscious' film, and so what would on the surface look like reprehensible behaviour becomes more explicable once you inhabit the house and become one of the gang. The child they have adopted was being abused by her parents. Her older 'brother' was left in a car while his carer was playing pachinko. The central couple are on the run after a murder of an abusive husband (in self-defence), and while they room with a grandmother whose pension helps them get by, they have in a sense adopted her as well after she was 'thrown away' by her real family. The film keeps returning to the idea that this family is chosen rather than the result of an accident of birth. And in some ways that makes it more honest.

The only other Kore-eda film I've seen is Our Little Sister, which tells a similar tale of family formation but in a more comfortable, middle-class setting. That film was cute, but it meandered aimlessly and slipped too easily from drama to melodrama. Shoplifters is much tougher – the only slightly soppy moment is when the boy finally uses the word 'father' to describe his relationship with his carer and mentor. And even then it's undercut first by the awareness that he's unlikely to see his adopted family again, and then further when we switch to the girl looking out of her balcony in the hope of being saved from her real parents by her adopted family. The genius of the film is to turn that theft, and all the other stealing we see, into an act of kindness.

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