Film Review

Shoplifters (Manbiki kazoku) (2018)

IMDB link
Running time: 2h 1min
Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda
Written by Hirokazu Koreeda (original story), Hirokazu Koreeda (screenplay)
Starring Lily Franky, Sakura Andô, Kirin Kiki

Shoplifters (Manbiki kazoku is the original title, which Google translates as “Shoplifting family”) is a Japanese drama about, well, you guessed it, a family of shoplifters. A poor family living in squalor has made the choice to supplement their insufficient income from various jobs with less than legal means. This redistribution of wealth is also done by the children of the family, whom the adults have trained for the task. They mostly steal ordinary things, such as groceries and everyday items, but occasionally something more expensive will also get snatched to be sold. The thieving family is not depicted simply as good or bad, which is a major strength of the film – there are many shades of grey to the characters, making them feel like real humans instead of cartoonish caricatures. The viewer is free to make their own judgements, the film is not preachy or moralising.

I should note that Shoplifters is the first non-English language film I am reviewing. There is always something lost in the translation when one does not understand the language being spoken and must rely solely (body language and facial expressions excluded) on the subtitles. While I almost always have the subtitles on for English-language films as well, that is to make sure I do not miss anything – occasionally it might be difficult to discern what exactly was said. This can be an issue with fast-paced dialogue, non-standard accents, rare dialects, soundtrack/sound effects drowning out speech, and so on. With a film made in a language one does not know, it is never apparent if something is left out or (slightly) altered in the subtitles. If there is much dialogue, that is guaranteed to happen. There is always the danger that one’s attention will be too focused on the subtitles instead of what is happening on screen, obviously hindering the enjoyment of the experience. One might miss details or just be a bit stressed out by the constant reading. Despite this rant, I do not advocate for dubbing in serious cinema (children’s movies are fine to dub, though). Shoplifters was not overly difficult to follow compared to some other films – the pace is slow, and the amount of dialogue is not overwhelming.

I cannot comment much on the acting – the language barrier and the fact that I have only seen the movie once make it difficult. With that said, I think the actors did a fine job. The film utilizes child actors fairly extensively, which is always a risk, but they were good. Of course, it is also possible that the language barrier affected my ability to judge the actors’ performances accurately.

The child actors did well

I have no complaints about any of the technical aspects of Shoplifters. The film looks nice, the cinematography is very good, and it feels like effort was put into all aspects of filmmaking. I did not make extensive notes watching the movie, but if I have no issues with something it usually indicates quality.

The story is good, but nothing spectacular. The viewer is slowly introduced to all the characters, while more and more is revealed about their past and their relationships between each other. There is a slight aspect of mystery about the whole film due to the slow reveals, though I should note that the backstories of the characters did not seem that important for the overall experience – but they do add some spice and complexity to the characters. Not everything is thoroughly explained in the end, which is fine, and even preferable in this case. The film focuses on the mundane little things (if you can count thievery among mundane things) that the family members go through both together and separately. There is much misery, but also moments of joy – just like in real life. It is the little details that make up the whole, and the details in Shoplifters are crafted well.

Shoplifters was critically well-received

My biggest issues with Shoplifters are the length and the pacing. While I was enjoying myself for most of the film, taking the slow pace as a relaxing, at times almost meditative experience, the ending dragged on way too long for my liking. In fact, it felt almost as excruciating to sit through as the ending of the director’s cut of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). Well, that is an overstatement, but still, I believe the film could be edited down quite substantially and be improved by this. With a running time of 121 minutes, Shoplifters is by no means the biggest offender in the field of overly long features, but the material was stretched for too long – the story could have been told more efficiently and enjoyably in a shorter time span.

Hollywood has done its best to condition me to prefer fast pace and constant action. Perhaps that is why I found the ending of Shoplifters such an annoyance – yes, blaming Hollywood for the possible failings of both I and the film sounds like the best conclusion. I have enjoyed slow-paced films before, but they do need to be excellent for the pace to be worth bearing. Watching films, I think you also need to be in the right mood for them – sometimes one just cannot stand a certain genre, for example. Here is an obvious statement about Shoplifters – it feels markedly different from a mainstream Hollywood film, which is refreshing. This is partly due to the pacing, but even so it could have been edited down, and in my opinion it would have been beneficial to do so.

Shoplifters is a quality drama. It is a well-made smaller scale production, focusing on real life human issues. It is not for those easily bored, for it is a bit slow-moving. It might not appeal to the fans of Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich, but if one is bored of Hollywood-style blockbusters or prefers slower-paced (foreign language) dramas in general, consider giving Shoplifters a watch.

Rating: 7.0 / 10

Times I had seen this film prior to this viewing: 0

Would I want to rewatch this film? Quite possibly

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