MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
One of my pet peeves about American movies (and American network television specifically) is that it all too often tells us stories about upper-middle-class Americans in either an urban or suburban setting. There’s nothing particularly wrong about that, but this creative choice either presents a world that is either all too familiar (it’s the world that I’ve lived in all of my life) or an aspirational goal (who wouldn’t enjoy the discretional luxuries of Modern Family?). The majority of the world’s population still lives in poverty or (at best) from paycheck-to-paycheck. I guess that’s why I often favor films like Leave No Trace or The Florida Project that show us regular people living lives of substance in spite of financial austerity.
Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda’s films are primarily concerned with family and often depict children in empathetic fashion without patronizing the challenges of childhood. Shoplifters is his latest film and it is a masterpiece that takes its time observing a family who live in urban poverty and yet truly care about each other.
The first scene is a mesmerizing and suspenseful depiction of a man and a boy working together to steal goods out of a local store. They have been in this establishment before and are aware of where the security cameras are, as well as the routine of the shopkeeper. Using special signals and limited eye contact, they pull off this petty theft. We will learn that the man’s name is Osamu (Franky) and the boy is named Shota (Jyo Kairi). They live in a very crowded little shanty with three other people. On the way home from work, they meet up with a little girl who is hungry and desperate. Her name is Yuri (Miyu Sasaki) and she follows them home. After feeding her, they take her back to her house. Just before they are about to leave her, standing outside they overhear an abusive fight between her negligent parents. They turn back homeward, with Yuri agreeably following. They now have an additional member of their family, with the added threat of being accused as kidnappers.
Shoplifting is just one of the ways in which this family supports themselves, but all of their job opportunities are lower wage choices, including day labor, laundry work, and dancing in a sex show. Although their lives might seem to be without hope, it is their love for one another that brings meaning to their world. It is precisely this compassion that creates the tension and risk when Yuri is invited into their home. (As Nobuyo (Ando), the mother, rationalizes: “Sometimes it’s better to choose your own family.”)
It is rare to see love depicted onscreen in such a matter-of-fact fashion and I grew to care about each member of this ragtag group, living day-to-day and savoring small moments of grace as a day on the beach or listening to fireworks from a distance. Shoplifters is a haunting and beautiful film that will break your heart.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Four halos: A tender-hearted film about human connections and mutual caring that could serve as a metaphor for the church at its best.
Two pitchforks: Shoplifting and other low-level crimes; peep shows, discretely depicted; mild swearing.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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