Grim yet heart-warming: Shoplifters

Cart: Miyu Saraki, Kairi Jyo, Sakura Ando, Lily Franky, Mayu Matruoka, Kirin Kiki

Director: Hirokazu Kore-Eda

Rating: * * * *

The poor are always with us. Living on the fringes. Beyond the pale. Like Germany, post-war Japan has bounced back to great wealth and the highest standards of living, but failed to ameliorate the pitiable conditions of the poor as writer-director Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s family drama shows.

Hirokazu is only telling us a celluloid story, but what a grim and gritty narrative it is! Illuminated by the threads of tenacity, of love and hope, life in all its vicissitudes is exposed through the memorable characters that comprise the titular Tokyo inhabitants who survive by their wits and thieving.

Master story-teller that he is, director-writer Hirokazu takes his time – and the viewers will not be bored by the pace – to establish plot and character. A poverty stricken couple Osamu and Nobuyo (Lily Franky and Sakuro Ando, both impressive) “rescues” a little girl from well-off, abusive parents and lavish her with loving-kindness.

They live in a hovel in a joint family which includes a boy who is wise beyond his years, a young, pretty thing named Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) and her grandmother (Kirin Kiki). The child Yuri (Miyu Sasaki) is soon introduced to the benefits of shoplifting and begging. Then the boy Shota (Kairi Jyo) gets arrested, and the backstory of murky secrets spills out.

Crimes of passion. Sex work. Theft. Lying. Cheating. Deception. But through it all, COMPASSION. No, the adults in this faux family aren’t monsters who mutilate abducted children. They are kind and loving and resourceful, and teach the young ones to enjoy the little they have. “Shoplifters” is heart-warming and heartbreaking.

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