Review of Shoplifters (2018)
Seen in 2021.
The first three quarters are Koreeda’s usual socially conscious naturalist drama, but the head-on shots of interrogation after Shōta the younger gets caught are Brechtian. They don’t actually break the fourth wall or display the obvious high-concept symbolism of the titular Woman in the Dunes (1964), but they certainly communicate Koreeda’s intent for the viewer to think about the family, that is for the film to be an intellectual exercise. This is a kind of Brechtianism I can get behind. The drama as such is primary, and well made.
As an overt meditation on the motif of found families in contemporary Japan, it’s the subtle, non-escapist, bourgeois-audience alternative to Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (2017). Oddly enough, it is almost as relaxing. This is mainly because of its typical Japanese attitudes to food, sex and leisure as comforts, morally irrelevant in the absence of devout Buddhists. In two brief scenes it looks as though Shōta the elder is a shōtacon, which is to say a pedophile. Pederasty would have pushed the narrative over the edge of believability and is ultimately neither confirmed nor likely to have occurred. By averting this possible horror, and not romanticizing the actual crimes, Koreeda finds a good tone, but the handling of Granny’s death and the murder of Nobuyo’s husband stretch it almost to the limit.