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A Golden Palm in Tokyo

A daily life far from fantastic, yet never sparing of magical moments, told with the sensitive and affectionate eyes of Hirokazu Kore'eda

by Giacomo Donati

It’s not the Japan of the postcards, the lights of the Shibuya crossing, the one represented gracefully by Sofia Coppola, not even the slightly stereotyped one of the anime or of authors like Takashi Miike, neither it is close to Shinya Tsukamoto's crazy and explosive narratives: Hirokazu Kore'eda's cinema looks elsewhere, in the apparently less glaring corners, in the anonymous alleyways where millions of Japanese spend their lives day after day.

And yet, just like everywhere else in the world, it is not under the spotlight that the most authentic soul of a people is hidden and the sometimes incredible stories that dot the everyday are often more noble and profound than the most alluring reconstructions that are made of them.

Movie festivals are still the best option to spread a bit of light on courageous productions that would otherwise remain unknown to the general public, so the Golden Palm assigned to Kore'eda’s last film makes no exception: Shoplifters is the umpteenth and certainly not conclusive link in a chain of stories that the Japanese filmmaker tell from year to year like his beads.

After representing the difficulties of the Japanese people facing the innumerable hard edges of life, dealing with death, dysfunctional families, children left in disarray, this time it’s the turn to show an even more unusual and invisible face of Japan.

"Shoplifters is really a film about people who share something, a condition: a failure with society"

Almost whispering and with the same mixture of acceptance and irreverence of his characters, without judging but opening his eyes on the impregnable complexity of existence, Kore'eda tells the story of a young girl who is welcomed, or better inserted, in an odd family, to say the least, living on the margins of society, surviving of petty theft, gambling and other behaviors not quite regular.

But, as often happens, this outlawed conduct is nothing but the only possible way to resist the crushing mechanism to which daily life incessantly subjects the characters, guilty only of not coping with the extreme impositions of society, but who, in compensation, in the desperate attempt to find themselves and to hold together their fragile balance, are still able to look around and empathize with others in need like them.

"I wanted to talk about the fracture that is created between society and family [..], to show the poor side but also the warmth, the emotions, the feelings that are shared in the house. [..] I never wanted to give a moral message, absolutely not. Because Shoplifters is really a film about people who share something, a condition: a failure with society. They are extremely different characters who have failed compared to the duties that society imposes on them, such as marriage, a good job etc. etc. and then they create this family and I just wanted to tell about this”.

No intentions to give life lessons, no illusions to be able to fully understand and explain the reasons that push or force his characters to live off the grid and suffer the relevant heavy consequences, but a great desire to question things together with the protagonists and spectators themselves, exploring even the nuances that are difficult to frame in the frenzy of real everyday life: this is the greatness of Kore'eda’s cinema, which takes up and actualizes with his own sensitivity the lesson of Ozu, with a declared more global breath, but with a look that can only fascinate those who want to deepen the Japanese identity in all its facets.