While it won the prestigious Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, there’s nothing especially radical about Shoplifters that sets it apart from the other domestic dramas that Hirokazu Kore-eda has made over the years. The new film lacks the complexity of Still Walking, keeps the frantically cramped visual style of Like Father, Like Son, and at times feels as languid as Our Little Sister — yet, there are moments here, like in all of Kore-eda’s films, that are so specifically attuned to his laid-back sensibilities that it almost makes the whole film worth it. Take, for instance, a small moment between the angsty Shota (Kairi Jō) and his newly adopted younger sister Yuri (Miyu Sasaki), where he’s just stolen a package of gluten cakes (her favorite) and tells her he’ll teach her the family trade of stealing “someday.” Or when the two are caught at a local shop trying to take some candy, and suddenly Shota’s expected to play protector for his new family member. In both instances, Kore-eda favors the mundane, focusing in on the slowly growing bond between the two that doesn’t feel like it’s contributing to the central narrative of the film, but more giving these characters a little breathing room. In another director’s film, these might be smaller moments within a more assertive narrative — for Kore-eda, it’s the only mode in which he operates for nearly the entire film, generally disallowing even the slightest escalation in tension. It’s only in the last reel that Shoplifters tries to reach something of a climax, accelerating the otherwise deliberate pace by indulging a series of narrative contrivances, all at once, seemingly to make up for lost time. It’s a change of pace for sure, but one so forced with unnatural conflict that it feels fraudulent compared to the more naturalistically intimate moments that came previously; a betrayal of the minutely tuned drama the Japanese auteur has become known for.
Published as part of Toronto International Film Festival 2018 | Dispatch 1.