Director Hirokazu Koreeda has form when it comes to young female characters welcomed into families who shower them with love, no matter how tough the circumstances. That is the bare thumbnail plot of the Palme d’Or-winning Shoplifters as it was the thumbnail for his previous film Our Little Sister.
In that engaging, warm film, three sisters decide to take home their father’s 14-year old daughter from the relationship he had when he left their mother. The girls believe that the stepmother - a third woman, a third relationship - is not up to the job of rearing the young teen.
Our Little Sister portrays a kind of petit-bourgeois scenario markedly different from that of the household in Shoplifters. In this case, director Hirokazu Koreeda portrays a much poorer family who essentially live by their wits. Cramped though they may be in their squat-like dwelling, they take in a five-year-old girl when they discover that her natural parents do not want her.
Thus she becomes part of this crafty family who live cheek by jowl in their makeshift flat on the fringes of Tokyo. The family members mother her and make her feel at home, while essentially doing anything, legal or illegal, to put all that wonderful homely food on the table. Be prepared for a hell of a lot of slurping of noodles (ethnic cuisine is a big deal, as it was in Our Little Sister).
The head of the household in effect is the shoplifting husband Osamu (Lily Franky). Then there is the wife who works in a factory and the aunt who works in chat rooms and the milder end of prostitution. There is the young boy of the household, too, who the unorthodox family picked up along the way. He is being schooled in the art of shoplifting by Osamu.
Endearing as life may be in these confined quarters, you sense all is not well at all behind the habitual petty crime and the tiresome expectations of compo which they live by.
Shoplifters is an absorbing, masterful film that opens out like a Japanese fan into a coda of sociological commentary that will leave you pondering about the ethics of families and their brands of dysfunction, veiled and visible alike. File under compelling human drama. See it at the Irish Film Theatre (IFI), Temple Bar, Dublin, from Friday.