Shoplifters (2018) dir. Koreeda Hirokazu
It is the bonds that define Koreeda’s cinema, be they family relationships, emotional conjunctions, connections with the past.
In his films there is always something missing, a void waiting to be filled, an absence as heavy as a stone that guides the actions of its protagonists, eager to reunite the threads of a past that fades into the folds of time and a present that they feel they don’t belong to.
The family is not chosen and what if we could?
Blood ties are often not enough to keep people together, they are dangerous, tormented, violent. They push the individual to seek further, someone who understands their thoughts, their needs, someone who accepts them, who helps them to live or at least try to do it. Like the particular family starring in Koreeda’s film, “Manbiki kazoku”, literally a family of shoplifters, whose members have chosen to share the same roof and the same behavior outside the law in order to survive. Seemingly a normal family consisting of a married couple, Osamu and Nobuyo, with a son, Shota, aunt Aki and grandmother Hatsue, the Shibata are not actually linked by kinship. However, we will soon discover that the bond that unites this core of people does not only respond to a question of opportunity but hides something deeper.
Thanks to his ability to deal with the subject with such an intense sensitivity as few other directors do, what remains after watching the film is the impression of feeling a particular affection for this strange family, a natural empathy for its components beyond the moral judgment that their actions might suggest to us.
EYES WIDE SHUT
“I wanted to show the dark side, the people we tend to ignore, before whom we are inclined to close our eyes,” says Koreeda. A family unit that despite its particularity tries like everyone else to inhabit the world in the best way they believe possible.
The shots of the subjects, almost totally hidden behind doors or dividing surfaces, their subjective vision partially covered or restricted, serve Koreeda to represent their difficulty in inhabiting this world.
SET ANOTHER PLACE AT THE TABLE
Relationships are built at work, at school, in places for socialising and entertainment but above all at the table. Food is a key ingredient not only for the physical survival of the individual but also for the emotional one.
In this, more than in all his previous films, Koreeda pays particular attention to the moment of sharing the meal, firstly because it is cooked with the illicit fruit of the ‘work’ of its protagonists but above all because its scene mirrors their relationships and behaviors. It is an anarchic composition in its own way, closed in a confined space, where the members of the family do not all eat sitting around the table but occupy a place that at that moment they happened to find in the midst of the most complete disorder.
The entry into the family of little Yuri comes to destabilize an already highly uncertain environment. The young Shota initially behaves as if he is jealous of the attention that others give to the child, the ‘mother’ Nobuyo does not want to bring her back to her real parents to protect her from their violent conduct.
ANATOMY OF A KIDNAPPING
Koreeda loves shooting details. Framing certain parts of the body of his characters is equivalent to exploring the anatomy of their feelings.
THE SAFETY OF OBJECTS
Not only parts of the body but also everyday objects occupy a prominent place in the filmic language of Koreeda. They are functional to the story as they are used to emphasize a particular situation, they serve us viewers to internalize its significant element, reflect on what we are seeing, develop critical thinking around it.
WE WANT TO LIVE
“In short, what I point to is not telling a story in an exhaustive way, but rather showing only seventy-eighty percent of it, leaving what is not seen to the aesthetic sensibility of the viewer”, said Ozu. The merit of Koreeda is precisely what his previous colleague aspired to, both have succeeded in the difficult task of conceiving cinema as an experience of exchange and reflection, through which to ask certain questions about the complexity of human life.
EVERYBODY ON THE GROUND
Beyond the stylistic choices, Ozu said that he had begun to make use of the camera at ‘tatami’ height above all by necessity, “at each take the lights had to be moved to one side or the other and after two or three takes electrical wires were tangled all over the floor. Tidying up each time before moving on to the next shot was a nuisance, so in order not to shoot the floor, I placed the camera looking from the bottom up. The shots that came out weren’t bad and it saved time, so I got into the habit of shooting in this way and positioning the camera lower and lower”, he said.
Koreeda also often uses this technique in order to resume the action in its entirety. When they say “making a virtue of necessity”.
IT’S A HARD LIFE
Often referred to as the heir of Ozu, Koreeda replies that he feels closer to Naruse especially in the way of characterizing the subjects of his stories, recognizing that Naruse’s crudeness in portraying certain of his characters, his emphasis of their unpleasant and individualistic behaviors, corresponds more to his idea of representation. For Koreeda, Naruse has had the virtue of representing the imperfection of human beings through his films without, however, making judgments against them.
A FRAGILE HARMONY
Although Koreeda portrays himself when he is approached with Ozu, his love and admiration for the latter is undeniable; from him he takes up some of his distinctive characteristics not only in terms of narrative but also stylistic. In addition to the already mentioned use of the camera in a low position, in this as in other previous films Koreeda dedicates particular attention to the formal composition of the shots, especially through the use of frames and symmetries.
MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART
Another constant in Koreeda’s films, as it was for Ozu, is the use of the train.
The train is traveling, waiting, meeting; it’s a medium through which seeing a constantly changing landscape, moving away from the past that we are trying to escape from or to which we would like to return, marching towards an uncertain future, which brings fears and hopes, crossing emotional landscapes along a fascinating and mysterious cinematic journey.
GOODBYE KIRIN GOODBYE
One of the most touching sequences or the film is the trip to the beach where all the members of the singular family gather to spend a day together like any normal family.
Once again it comes to think of Ozu in seeing the grandmother who observes her loved ones in the distance with her eyes full of love and affliction; one last look from Hatsue to a family she feels she belongs to, despite the blood, one last look from Kirin Kiki who left this earthly life just shortly after the film’s release.
But Koreeda says to think more about Naruse and if we look at the female characters outlined by the first in some of his films we can only agree. Naruse knew the female universe well, his women experienced the world and its complexity, they suffered but without letting go, they became aware of the transience of things.
Strong women are those of Naruse, like Nobuyo in this film by Koreeda, ready to sacrifice herself for the love of little Yuri.
Her police interrogation is another unforgettable moment in the film.
“Does giving birth to a baby automatically make you a mother?” asks her the policewoman who accuses her of kidnapping Yuri. Having stolen her from her real parents so that the little one would not suffer any more their abuse makes her a full-fledged mother in our eyes, no matter whether it should have a name or a label.
Just as one cannot remain insensitive in front of Marta’s close-up in Bergman’s “Winter Lights”, when she recites the letter written to Tomas, in which she confesses her true feelings towards to the clergyman, so the strength expression of Nobuyo, her gestures, her words, her tears, are imprinted in our eyes, revealing the unbearable torment that consumes her.
CHILDREN ARE WATCHING US
Children are one of the main subjects of Koreeda’s cinema. Over the years he has managed to create a very effective approach with them that has allowed him to better grasp their essence, letting the naivety and naturalness of childhood shine through on the screen.
Also in this case they play a fundamental role in the development of the story and Koreeda entrusts to them the task of closing the film with two significant images that bring together a beautiful message of hope.
Shota greets Osamu for the last time, finally managing to call him ‘dad’; Yuri back in his old house, looks at the world outside no longer spying on it from a small crack but raising his eyes over the balcony.
A look at the life that was and what is to come.