Shoplifters (万引き家族 – literally: Shoplifting Family) Manbiki Kazoku (Japan 2018) Lily Frankie, Sakura Andu
Viewed Tyneside Cinema 27 Nov 2018; ticket £9.75
Dickens with chop sticks
When in one of the final sections of the movie Osamu is asked by the cops if he isn’t ashamed that he taught his adoptive son Shota to shoplift, he shrugs looks down and answers with a shrug of resignation: this was all he knew.
Interesting that the original title of the movie is not ‘Shoplifters” but rather: ‘Shoplifting Family’. Because the core of the movie is not so much transgression (though after its own fashion there is certainly transgression in the film) but rather inclusion, a tale of a multi generational family that functions positively on its own terms even for the children who are not ‘kin’ but whom they have compulsively assimilated.
In ‘Shoplifters’ Kazoku reaches back into both the historic and also the mythic movie past, groping for an era that was not defined by: information technology, gadgets and communication media. A time that was characterised by traditional values pertaining to human relations and their organisation in space. A once upon a time when eating sharing food and touch was the focus of life, not the smart phone. When people looked not at a luminous screen but at each other.
The Kazoku’s film has a medieval feel. The family and the characters portrayed echo in filmic terms directors such as Mizuguchi and Kurosawa, referencing the peasant lives that fill out the backgrounds of their scenarios. Kazoku’s characters have the qualities of cunning and resilience portrayed by these directors as Japanese virtues. Of course ‘Shoplifters’ has a contemporary setting, but the family portrayed are not representative of the mainstream. The family lives on the margins of Japanese society. From oldest to youngest their lives are enmeshed in money making rackets from theft to extortion. Their disparate and distinctive trespasses could be justified by low income and their need to live, to eat. But for the family their behaviour is simply enfolded into their way of life and their values. They are a homogenous unit, there is no life/work split, there is just life.
Their infractions (or unconventional work) are absorbed into their collective life which rests on a stable (but not inflexible) matriarchal hierarchy from grandma down to the youngest, Lin (so renamed by the family). Living in a shack situated in an in-between zone, a sort of any space whatever, the family live in compressed chaos. Kazoku fills his frames with matter piled over matter, as the family eat sleep groom dress bathe in dense physical promiscuity. They live lives that are folded both into the space they occupy and into each other, engendering an intercaring/concern that is perhaps love. There’s an idealised message here. And this is Kazoko’s purpose: a lament for the kind of life, a traditional Japanese kind of living.
The collective life he epitomises in ‘Shoplifter’ is all but vanished. It has been replaced by individuated self bound existence, a life style accelerated by digital technologies which speak to the individual not to the collective. It is a life where something in the soul of Japan has died where Japan has lost something.
Western eating utensils replace chopsticks. Doors and stud walls replace screens; beds replace mats; the physicality of eating, moist foods requiring sucking and stuffing, tipping the bowl to drink down the essential mixture of juices and stocks, replaced by dry American foods directed into the mouth by the hand. The erotically suggestive nature of traditional cream coloured Japanese Udon noodles is captured in Kazoku’s love scene where Nobuyu, susceptible to the sensuality of the noodles, coaxes Osamu into making love to her. A love making characterised by both pre-coital and post-coital humour that is at one with a traditional line of Japanese erotic art.
The fall of the family is occasioned by two events unrelated except for their moral consequences. Firstly, the death of grandma when it is unclear who can replace her and her wisdom. And Osamu’s act of bad faith. Osamu has told Shota that it is Ok to steal from supermarkets because the food doesn’t belong to anyone. But after grandma has died, Osamu breaks into a car, smashing its window with a hammer, stealing the handbag left of the passenger seat. Shota is shocked. The handbag had belonged to somebody. And something in Shota snaps, he decides to break out of the family.
Kazoko films ‘Shoplifters’ framing his camera to capture the contrast he sees between his reliquary family and Japanese society. He uses a particular settings such as the landscape and the milieu in which the family lives. Not the bold geometric lines of the new cities and high rise apartment blocks, neon lit and dense with traffic. The family’s dwelling (hovel) is located in residual low value land, in-between space, neglected and overlooked by developers and governments, scrub land and unremarked space. A sort of existential space for the left over and the left out. The density of the interior of the shoplifters home contrasts both with the modernist ordered environment to which Lin is returned and with the utilitarian space of the enforcement agencies which in the end take over direction of their life and relationhips.
At the end, the final sequence, Kazoko’s camera reveals his any-space–whatever as a transformed zone. A zone purged by the magic of a virgin fall of snow. A promise of hope, this snow covering comes as a revelation, like one of Hokusai’s views of Mount Fuji. It is a sudden revelation that things can change, and the relations between ‘father’ and ‘son’ are given another type of possibility.