Review: 'Shoplifters' likely to steal your heart

Tom Long
The Detroit News

Filled with misguided good intentions, unexpected warmth and some nifty thievery moves, “Shoplifters” is above all a movie about family — the aching, natural need for one and the parameters of the term.

The film "Shoplifters" is about a family that relies on shoplifting to cope with a life of poverty.

The film takes place in a poor section of Tokyo, where a ragtag group of not terribly scrupulous people share a cramped hovel. The hovel belongs to Grandma (Kirin Kiki), an amiable scam artist living off her dead husband’s pension.

Also there are Aki (Mayu Matsuoka), a comparatively chaste sex worker; the husband and wife team of Osamu (Lily Franky) and Nobuyo (Sakura Ando), each of whom has a job — at least for a while — but also engages in nefarious activities; and Shota (Kairi Jo), a young boy of unknown origin who spends his days shoplifting.

Shota has learned his shoplifting skills from Osamu and they often work as a team, with the older man diverting attention as the boy loads up his backpack.

Early on Osamu bring home a new member to join the group — a little girl named Yuri (Miyu Sasaki) whose parent are abusive. The gang figures it’s not kidnapping if no one asks for a ransom, so soon Yuri is participating in shoplifting schemes as well.

And for the most part everybody’s happy. Osamu wishes Shota would call him Dad, and first Osamu and then Nobuyo lose their jobs, but straight jobs don’t mean much in this world. They have enough and they have one another.

Writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda fills the film with grace notes, humor and fine observations, circling and filling out each character while leaning more on innocence than corruption.

But this is life in an inevitable bubble. Yuri’s been reported as missing, Shota doesn’t go to school, Grandma is getting older and Osamu isn’t near as smooth as he wishes. Still, “Shoplifters” doesn’t go careening off a cliff; Kore-eda lets the family, and the audience, down gently with wisps of tragedy and hope.

On an outing to the beach at one point, Grandma notices aging spots on her legs and covers them with sand. The illusion won’t last, but it offers brief comfort. As does this family.