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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Shoplifters, a Japanese Oscar nominee for 2019 Best Foreign Language film and winner of the Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or, is a complex and delicate movie that looks at how people manage the difficult project of simply getting through life. What at first look seems to be the story of an extended working-class poor family struggling to make ends meet with love and affection later reveals the unlikely origins of how those people all ended up together. With clear-eyed compassion, the movie looks at human need, the law, murder, child abuse, and sex work. A couple is seen naked after making love from the sides and the back. No genitals are seen. A clothed sex worker is seen pretending to masturbate. Children shoplift. Adults smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol. The word "hell" is spoken.
What's the story?
In SHOPLIFTERS, what seems like a close family, with husband Osamu (Lily Franky), wife Nobuyo (Sakuro Ando), grandmother, kid, and sister-in-law, is actually a pseudo-family formed for the mutual profit and companionship of each of the group's members. Soon the 11-year-old boy and shoplifting expert, Shota (Kairi Jyo), finds himself with an adopted 5-year-old little sister, Yuri (Miyu Sasaki), an abused neighbor his "family" found left out in the cold, unfed and burned all over her body. Later it's revealed that Shota had also been an abandoned child rescued by the kind couple. Months later, when Yuri's disappearance is reported on the news, Yuri says she doesn't want to return to her neglectful and abusive real parents. Matter-of-factly, Nobuyu cuts the girl's hair and changes her name to Lin. And while the older woman they all live with is Aki's (Mayu Matsuoka) true grandmother (Kilin Kiki), she has no blood relation at all to the others she eats with and shares her home and pension with every day. Aki is a sex worker, masturbating while dressed in school-girl clothes for lonely customers. Nobuyu works at a laundry and supplements her salary with what she finds in pockets of the clothes she presses. The particulars of the plot make it seem far more sordid than the harmonious communal day-to-day family life we see on the screen. This happy family struggles in relatively good-humored poverty. But when Shota gets himself caught shoplifting, massive backstory is released. Fun and kindness within the family are taken over by the harshness of the law.The law created to right wrongs unwittingly puts innocents in harm's way.
Is it any good?
It's a tribute to director-writer Hirokazu Koreeda's gifts that his film feels simultaneously hopeful and uplifting as well as harsh and depressing. The working-class poor he depicts aren't cliched and downtrodden. They are bright and playful, canny and insightful, thoughtful and philosophical. Older teens will find much to talk about. Yes, the protagonists are scammers, but kind ones who value relationships as much as they value money, and the implication is that everyone is running some kind of scam. The justice system certainly seems like a scam here, if not a downright farce. The so-called good guys do more harm than good. And the bad guys? They collect abused and abandoned children and teach the waifs to shoplift, like Fagin in Oliver Twist, only they aren't threatening or abusive. They're loving and generous.
Shoplifters raises interesting questions about what constitutes a family and who deserves to be a parent. It seems reasonable to ask if terrible biological parents who mistreat their kids should be behind bars instead of the loving "parents," who nurture children. Members of the "family" remark that when you choose your own family, the bond is stronger. In a lovely scene, the family comes outside to listen to fireworks, which are too far away to see, underscoring the way this group has learned to appreciate the gifts they have rather bemoan the ones they lack.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what the word "family" means. Can people choose their families?
How did the central couple in Shoplifters treat their "children" and "grandmother"? What did their actions tell us about who they were?
Society seems to give up on many people on the margins. Do you think Osamu had ulterior motives when he helped the abused little girl who was outside on a cold night? Or was he just helping someone in need? What do you think you can do to help people in need?
Are you being scammed if your eyes are open to the fact that you and the scammer are helping each other?
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