In Shoplifters, the Japanese winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes earlier this year, director Hirokazu Kore-eda once again focuses his attention on a family unit. In this case, the family is living a precarious existence on the very fringes of society and yet, though not all of them are blood relatives, the ties that bind them together are strong and loving. The director’s deceptively simple treatment ensures that Shoplifters is an unsentimental heart-warmer of considerable charm and insight.
The head of this unconventional family is Osamu (Lily Franky), who is occasionally employed as a construction worker. He lives with wife, Nobuyo (Sakura Ando), and his elderly mother (Kiki Kilin), his teenage daughter, Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) and what at first appears to be his young son, Shota (Jyo Kairi) — though it gradually becomes clear that Shota is not really his son.
In the opening sequence, Osamu and Shota are shopping in a local supermarket. As they make mysterious signals to one another we realise they’re stealing as much as they’re actually buying, and that this is how they manage to live, as otherwise they’d never be able to afford what little they have. Osamu points out that current “workshare” arrangements mean that jobs are divided between several workers; everyone gets a bit of work but “everyone gets a bit poorer by the day”.
The family members share too; everybody does their bit. Granny is eligible for a pension, but she also shamelessly accepts money from the family of her late ex-husband, who remarried after he left her. Aki is a sex worker; she’s not a prostitute but she talks and acts dirty to male clients who are kept at arm’s length by a glass window and she makes contact with only those she chooses to.
When Osamu and Shota return home from the store one very cold night, they see a little girl (Miyu Sasaki), aged about four, who has been locked out on to the first-floor balcony of her parents’ apartment. They can hear the parents yelling at one another behind the apartment’s thin walls. Osamu takes pity on the child and offers her some food; eventually she goes back with them to their already crowded dwelling. When they see that her body is covered with burns and bruises, they decide to keep her, and she’s very happy to stay with them. Her parents apparently don’t report her disappearance, at least not at first; and it’s not kidnapping because, as Osamu justifies it, they’re not demanding a ransom for her.
Soon the girl they name Lin (or “Rin”, depending on the subtitles on the version of the film you see) is learning the art of shoplifting too. And she’s getting more love than she ever had before because every member of Osamu’s Shoplifters (Manbiki Kazoku) Limited release The Old Man & the Gun (M) National release Penguin Highway (Pengin Haiwei) (PG) Limited release Old Man & The Gun The Pete’s Dragon, 2016; and A Ghost Story, 2017) has written and directed a movie about Tucker’s later exploits. Robert Redford, who plays the old crook, has said this will be his last screen role and, if that proves to be the case, The Old Man & The Gun is not a bad way to end a distinguished career.
Tucker worked with a couple of partners, Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits); the trio became known as the Over-theHill Gang and their modus operandi was pretty simple. Tucker would amble into a small town bank, smartly dressed and brimming with charm, ask to see the manager, claim that he had a gun, then demand all the money from the tellers’ counters. Sometimes this worked and sometimes it didn’t, but there was never any violence involved.
These brazen thieves come to the attention of John Hunt (Casey Affleck), a cop who makes it his mission to arrest them. Along the way, Tucker forms a relationship with a mature woman named Jewel (Sissy Spacek). They meet when he’s making a getaway after his latest robbery and he spots her by the roadside in obvious need of help because her car has broken down. As he fiddles under the car’s bonnet, the pursuing cops speed past, oblivious.
After his brilliantly conceived A Ghost Story, The Old Man & the Gun is a very low-key affair from the always inventive Lowery. There are no real surprises, the robberies are handled almost matter-of-factly and, though there’s plenty of charm in the performances of the lead actors, the result is a drama that unfolds in a minor key. Lowery takes a shaggy-dog approach to the material, typified by the slyly amusing scene in which Waller explains why he’s not a fan of Christmas. For moments such as this, the film is appealing without being especially memorable. The whimsical Japanese anime Penguin Highway is set in a small town far from the sea. Ayoyama, the 12-year-old protagonist, is a rather smug kid with an elevated sense of his own genius. A couple of things begin to distract him. One is the arrival in town of a woman, known only as The Lady, who has rather large breasts and who seems to be employed by the local dentist.
The other is the arrival in town of dozens of penguins. While unable to stop ogling The Lady whenever she’s around, Ayoyama and his friends Uchida and Hamamoto attempt to discover the source of the mysterious penguins, and discover that the birds and The Lady are somehow connected.
This odd little story is based on a book and, for an animated film aimed at pre-teen kids, seems unusually convoluted and protracted. But, as always with Japanese anime, it’s visually a delight.
Scenes from Japanese films Shoplifters, left, and Penguin Highway, inset; and, below, Sissy Spacek and Robert Redford in