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Film / Shoplifters

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"Sometimes it's better to choose your own family."

Shoplifters is a 2018 Japanese drama film by Kore-Eda Hirokazu. It received several awards including a Palme d'Or.

Shota is a kid who helps his uncle Osamu do some shoplifting to support the whole family: Osamu's wife Nobuyo, her sister Aki, and their grandmother Hatsue. They are quite poor. One day they find a little girl named Yuri out in the cold, who is obviously being abused by her parents, and they decide to take her home with them instead of returning her to her parents.

This film makes some shocking revelations at the climax, so several tropes names are spoilers. Indeed, some of the above description is misleading.

This film features examples of:

  • Abduction Is Love: Osamu and Nobuyo take Yuri home, and hide her from her abusive real parents. By their own logic, it isn't a kidnapping since they aren't asking for a ransom and it's pretty clear that neither of Yuri's parents really want her. Nobuyo acts as a loving mother.
  • Abusive Parents:
    • Yuri's real ones beat and burn her and are also neglectful. When she disappeared, they didn't report it to the police.
    • Osamu taught Shota how to shoplift like him, and everyone in the household is in on it.
    • While Osamu and Nobuyo obviously love them, neither Shota or Yuri go to school. Presumably they wouldn't be able enroll the kids in school without blowing everyone's cover, since Shota and Yuri would be recognised as missing children and taken away, while Nobuyo and Osamu's crimes would be discovered.
  • Adoptive Name Change: The family change 4-year-old Yuri's name to Rin after she's lived with them for a bit, symbolizing that she's now part of the family. It turns out that they also gave Shota his name when they took him in, naming him after Osamu's real first name to symbolize that he is Osamu's son by choice if not by birth.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Nobuyo is asked one by police. "How did the kids call you? Mama, mother?" She can't remember and indeed neither Shota or Yuri are ever shown to call her anything, not even by name.
  • The Artful Dodger: While Shota isn't literally homeless or an orphan, he doesn't go to school and spends most of his day wandering around outside and stealing things. He's quite street-smart and is relatively happy and well-adjusted.
  • Better Off with the Bad Guys: A very poor family shoplifts to make ends meet. Osamu and Nobuyo are the father and mother figures, however "their" kids, Shota and Yuri, were actually abducted because their biological families were abusive to them. The grandmother figure Hatsue has no relation to any of them and stays with them because she has no one else to turn to. Aki is the daughter of Hatsue's husband and his second wife, and stays with the found family because she can't cope with the high expectations her parents have for her. In the end, the family's crimes catch up to them and they're separated, with Hatsue dying, Nobuyo going to jail and the kids going back to their abusive families, which the film implies is a worse fate than if they stayed with their criminal found family.
  • Brother–Sister Team: Shota and Yuri. Shota is first reluctant to work along with a girl, but Osamu talks him into accepting her help.
  • Burping Contest: Nobuyo and Shota have one in the streets after drinking soda.
  • Call-Back: Osamu keeps trying to get Shota to call him "Dad". Shota finally does at the end on the bus, as he leaves forever.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Grandma is shown to have a habit of muttering her ATM password out loud. This allows the family to raid her bank account after she dies.
  • Department of Child Disservices: Poor little Yuri is sent right back to her abusive parents.
  • Disposing of a Body: With the help of the others, Osamu buries the grandma underneath the house so they could continue receiving her retirement pension.
  • Downer Ending: Despite their efforts, the family is ultimately found out by the authorities and arrested. Nobuyo ends up going to prison after choosing to take responsibility for her and Osamu's crimes (though she's able to get off somewhat lightly with just a five-year sentence), Osamu is permanently separated from his surrogate children after a single night reconciling with Shota, and Yuri is left to live once more with her violently abusive parents, still wishing for her loving fake family to come back. Practically the only silver lining is that Shota is now able to live a normal life at an orphanage, and is doing well at school.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: When the family goes to the beach, there's a long, lingering shot of Aki's boobs, which the next cut reveals is supposed to signify Shota's gaze, as he's entering puberty.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Shota thinks shoplifting is ok because Osamu told him goods that haven't been bought yet don't belong to anyone. He later objects when Osamu plans to steal something that obviously belongs to someone.
  • The Fagin: Osamu relies on Shota to help him shoplift. He takes in Yuri, a discarded child, as well, and there's an implication at first that she'll join them when they get older. True to the trope, it turns out that Shota isn't related to him, and like Yuri was adopted after being found abandoned. Osamu's a more lighthearted example, as he really does love Yuri and Shota and wants them to call him Dad.
  • Family of Choice: Discussed and quite central, as in the earlier Like Father, Like Son.
  • Five-Finger Discount: Shota shoplifts in order to support his family.
  • Furo Scene: A scene of Nobuyo in the bathtub, where she washes and hugs Yuri/Rin, showing their familial intimacy and love.
  • The Gambling Addict: Hatsue spends a lot of money at pachinko parlors.
  • Happily Adopted: Yuri is much happier with her new family than with her real mother.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Aki works as a hostess and ironically enough, she has the fewest secrets of any of the characters. She also falls for one of her regular customers, seeing him as a fellow Broken Bird, and comforts him.
  • Horrible Housing: The family lives in a tiny, 2-room traditional Japanese home that's filled to the brim with stuff, reflecting their poverty and desperate situation. Shota doesn't have his own room, but has built himself a fort in the corner that he sleeps in. Osamu and Nobuyo have to wait for everyone else to leave the house in order to have sex, because they ordinarily just sleep in the middle of the dining room and have no privacy.
  • Interrupted Intimacy: Nobuyo and Osamu have just had sex and are about to go for another round, when Yuri and Shota suddenly come back home and they scramble to prevent a Primal Scene.
  • Important Haircut: The family cuts Yuri's hair when they change her name to Rin, signifying her acceptance into the family. Towards the end of the film, Shota gets his hair cut, signifying his leaving the family.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Nobuyo is incapable of bearing children of her own, even though she's always wanted them. She also can't adopt legally because she and Osamu are criminals in hiding. In contrast, neither of Juri's parents wanted to have her, and they treat her as nothing but a burden. The unfairness of it all contributes to Nobuyo's decision to abduct Juri instead of returning her.
  • Let the Past Burn: Nobuyo burns Yuri's hat out in the backyard. It's a symbolic act for Yuri to leave her abusive parents behind. Well, so one would think.
  • Lives in a Van: Shota often plays in one. Later when the police asks where he lives, he claims to live in one in order to not rat on his family.
  • Loveable Rogue: The whole family commits many crimes, but these are all justified in some way by the narrative- they shoplift because they're poor, they kidnap Yuri and Shota because the real parents are abusive, Hatsue extorts money from her husband's family because they abandoned her, the others bury Hatsue under the house because doing otherwise would expose their ruse, and in some sense they're more like her real family than her actual one, etc. The film gives a sensitive and humanizing portrayal to all these characters.
  • Meaningful Rename: It turns out that Shota is actually Osamu's real first name, which he gave to the boy after he took him in.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Aki is attractive enough to make a living off of it by working as a stripper.
  • No Escape but Down: Shota has to do that, jumping off a bridge after the store guards corner him on either side.
  • Parent-Child Team: Osamu is helped by Shota then also Yuri to do the shoplifting.
  • Passed in Their Sleep: Hatsue dies peacefully in her sleep. The police suspect otherwise given Osamu and Nobuyo's criminal past.
  • Poverty Food: They are often shown to eat food that looks very cheap (and is often stolen).
  • The Reveal:
    • Osamu and Nobuyo murdered Nobuyo's ex-husband, who was abusive.
    • Shota was abducted by Osamu and Nobuyo.
    • Hatsue's ex-husband had a son with his second wife. Aki is the daughter of this son.
  • Rewatch Bonus: Nobuyo telling her co-worker that she'll kill her if she goes to the police and tells them about Yuri just seems like a pointed threat for emphasis at first. On rewatch, you know that Nobuyo has actually committed a murder in her past.
  • Smash to Black: The film ends with Yuri/Juri looking down from the balcony at her house, then the scene abruptly cuts off.
  • Smoking Hot Sex: Osamu and Nobuyo share a cigarette after a bout of lovemaking.
  • Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: The police and social services aren't wrong that Nobuyo and Osamu are kidnappers and criminals who can't give the kids a normal home. But they're also tearing apart a happy family to take Shota and Yuri to their "real", abusive parents.
  • Taking the Heat:
    • Nobuyo takes the blame for the abductions of Shota and Yuri, to protect her accomplice Osamu. Osamu doesn't seem to be charged of anything (not even complicity), which seems consistent with the author's view on the Japanese justice system as seen in the earlier The Third Murder.
    • Shota draws attention to himself at a shop when he sees Lin getting into trouble with her clumsy stealing attempt. A Chase Scene ensues which lands Shota in hospital. Later he tells Osamu that he got Captured on Purpose which puts a question mark to his motive at the time.
  • The Talk: At the beach, Osamu has the talk with Shota while they are alone in the water.
  • Token Good Teammate: Aki is the only adult who isn't lying or hiding major things to everyone else.
  • The Unfavorite: Implied to be why Aki left her real parents' house to live with Hatsue, as she was unable to live up to her parents' expectations and they showered all their love on her sister and not her. This is why she pretends to be her sister, taking her name and persona at the hostess club where she works.