I don’t know much about Japanese film and what I do know relates mostly to the world of anime, reminding me of my frightening brush with Spirited Away as a child. So, when I went into the cinema to see Shoplifters, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Over the summer, I facilitated English conversation circles through the English Language Institute on campus and found myself talking about foreign film quite a bit. During one conversation with a Japanese graduate student we talked about the difference between American and Japanese film styles. As he pointed out, American movies are often centered around entertainment which they can do with the budgets to support CGI, international sets, and large casts. However, Japanese film, as he described it, is lower budget and often focuses on human relationships. Shoplifters was a prime example of this account.
Shoplifters follows the complicated relationships of this hodge-podge Japanese family and their struggles to survive. As the film unfolded, I learned more about each of the characters and what brought them to this family. This small apartment of misfits was brought together by circumstances often stronger than blood. The complexity of these relationships and the circumstances that brought the family together gave each complexity and depth, however, it also made the story a bit difficult to follow. Between the characters’ many overlapping histories and the barrier of language translation I struggled to ascertain the histories of each character without a little help from a film buff friend. I left the theater questioning the exact nature of the grandmother’s relationship to Aki or the main couple. And who had the couple buried in the past?
Despite these questions and minor confusions, I was still able to fully enjoy the complexity of their interactions and relationships. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the film was the way in which the film slowly unraveled, revealing another aspect of the backstory while simultaneously moving the plot forward. The movie was just a bit long and slow for an American viewer that has seen her fair share of rom-coms and Marvel sequels. However, I still found the film incredibly enjoyable and look forward to seeing how it does once Oscar Sunday comes around.
Image courtesy of the Michigan Theater