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by Jay Seaver

"Walks away with more than you might expect."
4 stars

After last year's experiment in telling a more conventional, plot-oriented story, Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda hs returned to the sort of decentralized look at an unusual or makeshift family that has long been his forte, and once again he's clearly at home telling a story this way. It's a specific sort of boutique-house dish that he makes better than most, and maybe not quite so abstract as it looks.

It opens with Osamu (Lily Franky), a day-worker of late-middle-age, and ten-year-old Shota (Kairi Jyo) doing a bit of evening petty theft, getting the supplies their family needs but can't afford. That family includes Osamu's wife Nobuyo (Sakura Ando), peep-show girl Aki (Mayu Matsuoka), and grandmother Hatsue (Kirin Kiki). There's not really room for another, but Osamu and Shota come upon five-year-old Yuri (Miyu Sasaki) left alone on a porch on a cold night, looking hungrier than they areā€¦ The next morning, it's almost lucky for them that she's got bruises and apparently nobody looking for her, because the shoplifting isn't the only thing about this group that's not on the up-and-up.

That there's a little more going on here than just a poor but tight-knit family is fairly clear from the beginning, and the way Kore-eda drops scraps of information leading to the rest is alternately masterful and maddening. On the one hand, the scraps of information are just tantalizing enough to keep a viewer who likes having some sort of puzzle to play with from checking out without ever pushing the more observational material to the background, and when bits of foreshadowing do finally pay off, it fits together in very satisfying manner. On the other, it often seems as if his moments of misdirection are a bit too precise, especially in a movie where characters are not often trying to fool anybody but the audience. The conflict between the film playing as observational and deliberately holding back can be frustrating as one watches it, even if, ultimately, it is ultimately about the conflict between these people's openness and secrecy.

Getting all of those secrets out requires a late-picture shift into formal truth-telling, which is awkward but maybe not so out-of character as it seems; though Kore-eda is probably best-known for seemingly informal fly-on-the-wall pictures like Nobody Knows and Our Little Sister, he also knows his way around an interview, from After Life to the best scenes in The Third Murder. The shift the movie makes as it reaches that point is interesting because it seemingly takes a lot of the ability to act out of the characters' hands, and in doing so makes them grapple directly with the contradictions in the way they live in a way that they and the audience could often overlook out of seeming necessity.

As with the rest of the movie, it's Lily Franky who sits at the center there, his worn-down affability always a shield for the amorality that will assert itself when Osamu gets backed into a corner. The initial impression he creates of his grifter as a basically decent guy isn't wrong, exactly, but Franky is great at finding the spot where he can slide into a darker place without the audience noticing at first. It's an intriguing gray area that the late Kirin Kiki also inhabits in one of her final roles, initially coming off as a doddering old lady but having a chance to show both something like Osamu's cunning and the underlying loneliness that can motivate an elderly woman's actions. Kore-eda also continues to use kids better than just about anybody else, both in terms of writing them authentically and getting the most out of sometimes very young actors - Miyu Sasaki is adorable but not too precious as Yuri, and Kairi Jyo proves impressively capable of carrying some of the movie's most important moments.

It's the specific moments that often stick out, though, most notably a quiet scene where Nobuyo burns the pajamas Yuri was wearing when Osamu found her. The flickering flames highlight characters' faces, highlight that this is both a practical destruction of evidence and the symbolism of a new start, as well as how those ideas are in direct conflict. It's similarly impressive to watch Shota slowly grasp just how skewed what his father has brought him up to believe is, turning it over in his head over the course of the movie.

There's enough going on there that the initial impulse to file it away as little more than the latest example of Kore-eda doing the sort of thing he does (which is nothing to be sneezed at) should find something special with a little digging, while those who love this sort of thing will find "Shoplifters" particularly worth a couple hours.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=32320&reviewer=371
originally posted: 10/30/18 14:41:15
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2018 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/23/19 Bob Dog Bittersweet character study by the director of the masterpiece "After Life" 4 stars
12/30/18 Orpy Not as good as the hype says it is. 3 stars
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  23-Nov-2018 (R)
  DVD: 12-Feb-2019


  DVD: 12-Feb-2019

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