Cannes Winner Shoplifters is currently streaming on Netflix“If they say they hurt you because they love you that is a lie, If they love you really this is what they do,” Noyobu holds little Yuri in her arms giving her a tight hug as speaks these words. 

This is the most stirring scene from Palme d’Or winning movie Shoplifters directed by the Japanese film-maker Hirokazu Kore-eda. An emotional drama revolving around bonds created by choice, Shoplifters emits the warmth of love and ties beyond normality. The movie tells the story of a family of six, living at the very bottom rungs of society in the rich nation of Japan. 

It opens with a man and boy, apparently looking like a father-son duo at first glance, shoplifting from a store. The scene reveals their expertise in shoplifting. Soon we understand that shoplifting is done for the basic needs of a ‘big’ family. On their way back, they find a cold and tired little girl on a balcony. This scene gives us an impression that they know each other which they actually do not. The father and son engage in a little conversation which ends up taking her with them.  

We find a family of five living in a tiny house – Osamu, the shoplifting man and his wife Noyobu, another woman named Aki, Hatsue, an elderly woman who looks like the grandmother and the boy, Shota. Yuki joins this family as the sixth member. On checking the girl’s body, the grandmother finds marks of torture. Though they accept the child and care for her, the family is afraid of facing kidnap charges. Finally, they decide to take the kid back. But taking her back, the father and son overhear the argument of her parents, revealing their carelessness. They decide to keep Yuri with them. 

Warmth of love

 Osamu was a daily-wage worker who met with an accident. Noyobu works at a laundry shop in shifts from where she steals leftovers. Aki works at a sex exhibition centre from where she gets deeply involved with one of her customers. The main income of the family is the elderly woman’s pension. However, they live happily even in the midst of all this financial penury. Everyone joins the dinner table at night and makes their own contributions. Osamu uses Shota and Yuri for shoplifting. He has a very weird justification for his actions. According to Osamu, the goods at a store are not owned by anyone unless someone buys them, so stealing them is ethically correct.  

Osamu induces these principles into both Shota and Yuri. We soon realise that Shota (who is not actually the ‘son’ of Osama), is someone who can not still integrate himself completely into this ‘family.’ He can not call Osamu ‘Dad.’ He is also not ready to accept Yuri as his ‘sister’ in the beginning. Osamu tries to hold them together. The Grandmother is another important character. It was in fact her loneliness that formed the foundation of this ‘family.’ One morning, the family finds that the grandmother has died in her sleep. With their unusual ‘family’’ background, they are not able to offer her a proper burial and decide to bury her secretly inside the house. They try to make themselves believe that there were only five members in the ‘family.’ 

Is blood thicker than water?

Shota met with an accident in an attempt to save Yuri during shoplifting. This incident exposed the family before the authorities. The second half of the movie reveals that the ‘family’ was their choice. This gives a new colour to the movie which goes deep into their relationships. They had chosen each other to be in a ‘family.’ The choice is made much stronger by bonds that are organically created by themselves. Yuri was the latest addition to it. 

Shoplifters can be compared to Pather Panchali, the Indian classic. Both the films share the same themes of relationships and poverty. The neo-realistic style in scripting and making also make these moves more relatable. But both Satyajit Ray and Hirokazu Kore-eda are excellent cultural adaptors. Both the movies were perfectly mingled with their respective cultural backgrounds. 

The visual narration of Shoplifters stands out with brilliantly used close-ups. The entire tone of the film itself conveys the warmness of their relationships to the audience. The production design also plays a vital role in storytelling.

Shoplifters raise questions on the emotions of love and the bond of relationships. Are relationships by blood always thicker than water? Or is the thickest way of the relationship between humans by blood? When can we say that we love someone? The movie gives us the answers that blood is sometimes thicker than water and love is the best emotion when it is unconditioned and limitless. 


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