Shoplifters is a quietly touching movie. It neither strives to be a tear-jerker nor is it overly pessimistic. It simply is. It is a story set perfectly in the real world, even though most of its characters are ignored by the rest of society. Constantly, they are told by others that they don’t exist. Most interestingly though, Osamu (Lily Franky) and Nobuyo (Sakura Ando), the central couple of the story, simply don’t care. They benefit from inattention, cultivating an unusual family in the midst of busy Tokyo. They are not married, but they have a child. Hatsue (Kirin Kiki), the older women that lives with them, is not their mother, but they call her ‘mother’ in front of the housing authorities. They are living false lives, but so is everyone around them. Osamu and Nobuyo see their lies as necessities for both their survival and the survival of the family that they have built together.
In addition to Osamu and Nobuyo, the ostensible ‘Dad’ and ‘Mom’ of the household, and Hatsue, the ‘Grandmother’ figure, the household consists of Osamu’s younger ‘sister’, Aki, and their ‘son’ Shota. All of their histories are carefully veiled, the audience only occasionally glimpsing their true pasts. The characters, themselves, seem to avoid their prior selves. They have discarded themselves as easily as the plastic wrappers thrown next to the road. It is freeing and empowering to only live in the present. For them, it doesn’t matter how they have gotten to this moment only what they can do now. It is a life with few regrets, but also little thought for the future. The fragility of their situation is constantly threatened and one of the greatest threats comes in the form of a little girl, Yuri. Yuri’s biological parents are constantly arguing, leaving her to play outside unattended. One night, Osamu and Shota find Yuri who has run away. Instead of returning her, they decide to take her into their own family. Other movies would simply assume that the adoptive family is Yuri’s salvation. But they, too, are dysfunctional.
Shoplifters, admirably, never chooses sides, instead finding the happiness in the messiest, most unorthodox situations.