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Festival de Cannes 72 Countdown: Manbiki Kazoku / Shoplifters, 2018

We excitedly countdown to the 72nd Festival de Cannes with a different prize winning film each day.

Manbiki Kazoku / Shoplifters, 2018

Palme d’Or – Hirokazu Kore-eda

“Sometimes it’s better to choose your own family.”

So says Nobuyo Shibata (Sakura Ando) to her grandmother Hatsue Shibata (Kirin Kiki) about midway through the 2018 Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters. This Japanese film from director Hirokazu Koreeda is particularly focused on the idea of what it means to be a family. We often associate traits like loyalty and togetherness with strong familial bonds, but what if those traits are accompanied by others like lying and stealing?

We’re faced with these questions from the film’s very first scene, as we watch Osamu Shibata (Lily Franky) and young Shota Shibata (Jyo Kairi) in the act of shoplifting. They have a well-rehearsed process, and they make off with quite a few groceries on their way back home.

Home is where we find Nobuyo, Hatsue, and Aki Shibata (Mayu Matsuoka) – many people all under one roof. Even before we know all their backstories, it’s clear that everyone in this house lives on the edges of society. Life has been hard for them.

The film’s inciting action comes when, before they make it back home, Osamu and Shota find a homeless girl on the street. They decide to take her in, and they find that her name is Yuri (Miyu Sasaki). They care for her like she was one of their own, and this is where the film’s consideration of family truly begins to reveal itself.

From a technical standpoint, the film is gorgeous. It is no wonder that it was so universally acclaimed, as the direction, writing, and editing by Koreeda along with the cinematography from Ryuto Kondo are all of the highest quality. I was especially struck by the way the camera shows the faces of this family – particularly the children.

The children are not side characters in this story. They are the focus. The film’s technical components underscore this, like the fact that the film opens and closes with a shot depicting one of the children.

This is a tender film, but a hard one at the same time. We see the older Shibata family members engage in and teach the children stealing. We also see them giving great amounts of love and attention to these children. I was not well-versed in Japanese culture prior to seeing the film, but Koreeda does a masterful job of immersing us in the setting of Tokyo that the Shibata family faces.

They do not have much money, and they are living off of Hatsue’s pension from her deceased husband. That’s not an excuse for their illegal actions, but it is context. Say what you will about their tactics, but they are trying to provide for this family that they have built.

The inclusion of Yuri, or Lin as they call her, forces all the family members to come to terms with their lifestyle. Lin’s parents never report her missing, and it is clear that they abused her. Nobuyo, especially, takes Lin under her wing and gives her the motherly love that she never had and had not been able to impart until now. They truly do care for her, but they also teach her to shoplift, as it’s the only way of life that they know. Osamu rationalizes this by saying that stealing from a store is okay since no one has bought the items yet so they don’t belong to anyone.

I won’t get into any more plot elements, as there are key moments in the remainder of the film that stem from Lin’s inclusion in the family. These moments force us to consider how far we are willing to go for our own family members, and even what the meaning of family truly is.

Not only was Shoplifters the winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, but it was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The acclaim is certainly well-deserved here, as I would contend that this is a film we will be discussing for many years to come.


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