Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

5/5 (1)

Director Hirokazu Kore-eda (Still Walking) directs a natural, heartfelt story of a family where nothing is as it seems. In minute and detailed episodes, Kore-eda deftly offers a portrait of a family on the edge that nevertheless lives to the fullest with spirit. The film entitled “Shoplifters” has received numerous awards including the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2018.

The story focuses on a makeshift family headed by Osamu (Lily Franky) who teaches his children to shoplift. His children are not his biologically; they are lost or abandoned youngsters that the man spies on the street, testing our definition of what actually makes up a family.

This is the central ingredient of the film and its most provocative element.

One day Osamu spies a toddler Yuri (Miyu Sasaki) out on the street in the cold. Osamu tempts her with food and the girl follows him home where she becomes an accomplice to shoplifting.

Later it becomes evident that Yuri has been abused. Yuri likes Osamu and his wife Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) and the couple keeps her.

This is the first film I have seen portraying a poor family in Japan and it deserves to be highlighted. This family is closely bound through affection and play and each member truly cares.

Although the middle section lags with character points that are difficult to keep straight in regard to the grandmother Hatsue (Kirin Kiki) and her history, the film still gives a compelling portrait of an eccentric family unit.

The spark of this film is that it teases our expectations. At first we are shown a blue collar father up against it. Then we see a man a little lazy and eager to not extend himself. Finally, it is revealed that Osamu is very sexual and crosses conversational boundaries with his “son” Shota (Kairi Jō). At one point, he attempts to run away. During these episodic turns, our societal conventions are both revealed and tested.

“Shoplifters” starts slowly but gradually builds to a climax that is both apprehensive and affectionate. The film is a fitting addition to this director’s oeuvre, offering further proof that Hirokazu Kore-eda is one of the most graceful and articulate directors.

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