26 February 2019 | gcsman
Thoughtful insight into eccentric lives, in a refreshingly non-Hollywood style
I'm putting down 8/10 for a "rating", but basically I have no idea how to put a movie like this numerically in comparison with just about any Hollywood effort. It really belongs on a different scale entirely. My wife and I are just back from seeing it at our local art-cinema theater and we liked it very much. Stylistically, for other recent movies it's close to "Roma" and also the American indie film "Leave No Trace" as bittersweet, unhurried explorations of quite real human beings working hard to survive.
"Shoplifters" follows the lives of a makeshift "family" living in the underside of an unnamed Japanese city (the particular place isn't important). The adults scrape by with low-security, low-paid jobs, the grandma has a small pension income, and the kids are vagabonds. They get by in a crowded, ramshackle tenement and the two kids are busy picking up the techniques of petty shoplifting from the adults. We slowly learn that almost none of them are actually related; they've haphazardly chosen each other to live with in a framework a little outside the margins of normal society. All of them, in some way, have left or been taken out of abusive or dangerous previous relationships. Throughout their exploits, told by a long series of short vignette scenes, is that they indeed feel close bonds but that their "family" is built, not by blood, but by the constant kindness they show towards each other. They survive on the margins, but they love and are loved.
The second and much more subliminal big message I took away from this film was its ambience: it's quiet. Scenes that would -- in a Hollywood film -- predictably lead to shouting matches or displays of anger or confrontations with authority, *never* take that cheap overdramatized route here. When confronted with tough questions, the main characters answer reflectively and with spare honesty. Even out on the streets with traffic and lots of people around, it's quiet. What a change.
Toward the end of the film, the main characters are being patiently interviewed by social services staff in a series of magnetically powerful scenes. The "family" members' answers are often startling: "Why were you teaching your son to shoplift?" "I ... didn't know anything else to teach him." or: "Didn't you take your grandma and threw her away?" "No. Someone else threw her away; we took her in." or: "The child belongs with her mother." "No. Giving birth doesn't make her a mother." From small glimpses like this, a window opens into an entire world of human nature.