A unique, captivating Japanese film in subtitles that involved a drama that I have never seen on the big screen.
Let me begin by saying that I strongly suspect that the Japanese film Shoplifters will be one of the five foreign films competing for an Oscar this year. While nearly every film critic is stumbling over themselves to lavish praise on Roma in that category, this film encompasses a family setting that is a daring piece of cinematic art by any definition.
Lily Franky and Sakura Ando play an engaging husband and wife who maintain a small home while trying to find a way to make a few yen. Their house is a charming collection of misfits which includes a grandmother played by Kirin Kiki, a “daughter” played by Mayu Matsuoka and a ten-year-old “son” played by Jyo Kairi. I have put quotes around some of the names because the plot slowly unfolds where nearly everyone is revealed to be someone other than what you were led to believe.
Franky’s character has one great talent, namely his dedication to shoplifting. In the process, he trains young Kari on how to develop illegal skills, and as you watch them walk away with stolen goods you are left surprisingly smiling with them.
Early in the movie as they return home from one of their heists, they discover a little girl sitting outside behind a fence out with snow beginning to fall. Thinking she has been abandoned, this little eight-year-old lass is taken to their home where she quickly becomes a member of their family.
As you watch what appears to be a close-knit family interact with everyone, you soon recognize that something has gone terribly wrong. Grandmother Kiki visits a couple who may be the parents of Ms. Matsuoka, and she is paid a handsome sum of money to shelter their obviously abandoned daughter. In the process, you watch that daughter enthusiastically work in a house of prostitution where she and her female colleagues perform in an erotic fashion in front of a mirror where a paying male customer is on the other side but can’t be seen.
As the plot unfolds, police descend on our family where they are investigating both the shoplifting and the allegation that the little girl that was saved from the cold was actually kidnapped. As the truth surrounding our principle characters is finally revealed, you can’t help but embrace this film in the same fashion that you did Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma.
Let me close with a few brief comments about the actors themselves. They are all sensational, but you will never forget the performances of the children played by Jyo Kairi and Miyu Sasaki. They are as loveable as they are charming, and both will find a place in your heart before you leave the theatre.