The underlying message of Shoplifters: we don't always get to choose our family and if you do, you might end up happier in life. I related to Hirokazu Koreeda's film because I too, wonder what it would be like if I could have chosen a different family? I grew up in a dysfunctional home. My father left our family when I was 10-years old. My mother was left to care for three children on her own, a brother that was abusive, drinking, and using drugs; A sister that struggled with being in the closet, in a world extremely cruel to those who are out of it, and me? I was the alcoholic, womanizing, immature boy that never lived up to his potential. I didn't ask for any of it, and yet, these were the cards I am dealt with. I realize, with each passing day, that I am okay with the family I have. Not just because, in their own messed up way, they showed me what love is, but because they are MY family. The path I have walked on has led me to strive to be a better father, husband, brother, and son. In Shoplifters, a group of people come together through fate and become a family that steals together. They live in a small shack, plan schemes to steal food, and make one big happy family. Shoplifters is not only beautiful, it's heartbreakingly poignant, declaring that the family dynamic is what you make of it.  

The opening hooked me in. Young Shota (Jyo Kairi) enters into a grocery store and immediately the game is on. From the corner of the cameras eye, we see Osamu (Lily Franky) sending hand signals, surveying the floor for what could be stolen, and how it could play out. The plan works perfectly, with oranges falling on the floor, store clerks distracted from what is being taken from under them. The two have a laugh about their accomplishment walking home, only to stop when they come upon a young girl named Yuri (Miyu Sasaki) sitting outside in the rain, cold, crying, while her parents scream about their dislike of her existence. Shota and Osamu take her with them, give her shelter, and eventually she becomes a part of the family. There happens to be three more people at home, Shibata (Sakura Ando) the mother-like figure, Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) the teenager, working part-time as a prostitute, and Hatsue (Kirin Kiki) the elderly grandmother type. They make life work and created a family.

What follows is the films central and moral quagmire, debating if there is a right in doing so much wrong. Osamu teaches Shota to steal. They are a collective group that scrapes to survive. Osamu works random construction jobs for very little pay. Shibata working as a maid. Aki sex-working, but looking for love as a way out. It all amounts to a group of survivors, and they love one another. There is kindness, happiness, and friendship in the bond they have. Are they doing things that are wrong? In a way yes, but Koreeda never demonizes them. The message is about finding our compassion for those who have been less fortunate. What these six people have escaped from is a nightmare and found a place to feel loved.

Inevitably something will and does go wrong, with Shota and Yuri left to their own curiosities, lacking the guidance to keep them out of trouble. I found myself constantly going back and forth between what I thought was the right answer to Shoplifters. Should we be mad that these children are walking down a path of stealing? Do we blame the parents? Do we blame society or those that take them in? It reminds me of classic stories such as Oliver Twist or Aladdin, where we find compassion in our characters circumstances. I don't think there is any easy answer. I think an emphasis must be made as to how important our early development and responsibility that parents must take for nurturing their children.

Shoplifters is by far one of the most empathetic, heartbreaking, and emotionally invested films of 2018. Above all, the messaging, and a realistic focus of the camera, is a story about humanity. There is so much to gain from a movie like this. We put ourselves in the situations of this “family” and realize that they have found a better life, because choosing this family has been better than any alternative they could have imagined.


Written by: Leo Brady