shoplifters.jpg
Magnolia Pictures
The title of Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters could have just as easily been Collectors: An impoverished, three-generational family lives on top of each other in a tiny house cluttered with piles of stolen and salvaged junk. Other people’s trash is their treasure, and that idea is taken to extremes when the family adopts—or kidnaps, depending on your point of view—a neglected and abused young girl. But the true nature of this unusual family, and their methods of acquiring things, means their lives must be kept in the shadows.

Shoplifters won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and it’s now playing in Portland after being raved about by critics for the past few months. Count me in that group—Shoplifters really moved me, and did it in a sneaky way, carefully setting the table during the film’s early stages for a gut-wrenching and unforgettable ending.

It’s not a splashy movie, and there’s not a twist, necessarily. But the movie has a way of getting its hooks into you before you even notice, and Kore-eda plays with your expectations on what a family is and isn't, then subverts them. It’s better not to say too much about that, other than the way these six people relate to each other is awfully complicated if you put it into words, but can be understood entirely just by observing them onscreen.

shoplifters2.jpg
Magnolia Pictures

The performances are really spectacular, including Lily Franky as the father and Ando Sakura as the mother, but the most moving portrayals may well come from the children: Jyo Kairi is the long-haired son on the verge of puberty, and you see how he takes after his father, for better or worse, and the youthful hunger in his eyes is at odds with the constraints of his socioeconomic status. Sasaki Miyu is the young girl the family takes under their wing, and she gives what’s easily the best performance from a young child since The Florida Project—heartbreaking and funny and cute, but not sugary or sentimental. She’s both the movie’s totem/mascot and its quiet emotional center.

It’s hard to stop thinking about Shoplifters. Roger Ebert famously described movies as empathy machines, and Kore-eda might be the most skilled director currently working to that end. You become a member of this unusual family for two hours, and you go through their ups and downs; you appreciate the simplicity of their existence and you feel frustrated by its limitations. You love them and are angry with them; you laugh and wonder and worry. This warm, heartbreaking movie is vivid and truthful and lived-in, with characters you’ll remember for a long, long time.

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