Hirokazu Kore-eda doesn’t have as much traction in America as other Japanese filmmakers. He’s not an animator like Hayao Miyazaki, and he doesn’t traffic in the stylized violence of Sion Sono. He did once venture into experimental territory with his 1998 film After Life, depicting the next world as a secluded Buddhist monastery and film studio where the souls of the dead come to make movies about their lives. Still, most of his films like Nobody Knows, Still Walking, and I Wish are small-scale, sharply observed stories of families: children seeing the world for the first time and adults working through deep emotions in quiet ways.
Shoplifters is in the same mold – a story set in Tokyo’s seldom-discussed homeless enclave, where a hastily convened pseudofamily finds a little girl (Miyu Sasaki) stranded outside on a cold, wet evening. They initially want to return the girl to her parents, but when they hear screaming and sounds of violence coming from inside the house, they decide to keep the girl with them and teach her how to join them in stealing food from stores so they can live. The film is full of rending little moments like the one where the father figure (Lily Franky) is asked how he can teach children to rob, and he says, “I don’t know anything else to teach them.” Anyone who’s seen Kore-eda’s movies knows that his compassion for his characters comes along with unsparing insight into the social systems that neglect them, and they make him one of his country’s great directors.
Shoplifters screens Fri-Sun at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 3200 Darnell St, FW. Tickets are $8-10. Call 817-738-9215.