Lyric Review: ‘Shoplifters’ shows a heartwarming family of criminals

Ty Davis

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a film quite like “Shoplifters,” and I don’t know if I’ll see one like it for a long time, if ever again. I often describe films as “hard to explain” when trying to describe the innate feelings a film gives you or certain intangible qualities it has. Critics try to describe this feeling through discussion of elements such as the story, editing and cinematography, but to truly understand “Shoplifters,” it must be seen.

The title, along with the film’s promotion, misleads the audience into thinking the film is going to be a serious procedural about shoplifting, how kids are taught to shoplift and how the law eventually catches up with them. Deciding whether you want to see “Shoplifters” on that message alone could cause you to miss one of the most touching and heartfelt examinations of living financial struggles, the crimes for survival and surrogate familyhood.


The film focuses less on what these people do and more on who they are, how they got to their positions and why they do certain things. “Shoplifters” is less about the commitment of crimes and focuses more on the situations that drive people to commit them and the humanity of those committing them.

The film starts with Osamu Shibata (Lily Franky) and his son Shota Shibata (Jyo Kairi) shoplifting from a local supermarket for their dinner. On their way home, they notice a little girl locked out of her house in the cold, and remembering she’s been locked out several other nights that week, they decide to give her some food and let her stay inside in the warmth for a little while. However, when Osamu and his wife Nobuyo (Sakura Andô) realize the girl, Yuri (Miyu Sasaki), is being physically and emotionally abused, Nobuyo refuses to return her. Not wanting to return the girl either, Osamu relents and both decide to take her in.

“Shoplifters” is playing at The Lyric

But the film quickly shifts focus away from this plot line and begins examining the various relationships each character has with each other. Yuri’s plot is not ignored, but it is just one of many plot lines in the film.

Throughout the film, the audience becomes as intimately familiar with these characters as people in their own lives. We get to see the bonds that connect these characters and form this strange hodgepodge of a surrogate family. By the time we see these characters, they have already lived in this world, so we not only come to understand their bonds, but we get to watch them develop. We watch Shota become jealous of the attention Osamu gives to Yuri, see how deeply committed Osamu and Nobuyo are to each other and watch Shota transition from being Osamu’s protégé to becoming skeptical of his actions. “Shoplifters” firmly believes in the strength of surrogate familyhood, which makes it all the more tragic when the film questions the strength of love from unscrupulous people by testing their relationships.

What struck me most about “Shoplifters” was its willingness to show a different side of Japan. A lot of Japanese media, especially that which is imported to the West, often shows this idealized, glamorous version of Japanese life. Media often portrays a life of economic comfort and stability where the cities are clean and everyone enjoys their place in society, but this is not the reality for everyone. People face unpredictable hours, younger demographics are unsure of their future, the work structure emphasizes the good of the company over the workers’ personal health and there is potent class discrimination.

“Shoplifters” shows a reality that should not be buried; these are people just trying to survive to the end of the week. Each has their own problem, whether it be dealing with pensions, a company that won’t pay workers comp or just trying to pull off a successful hustle and make it through a society that has forgotten them.

Ty Davis can be reached or on Twitter @tydavisACW