Following the ‘Oscars So White’ controversy and critical discourse around the lack of diversity across Film, TV and Theatre, it’s refreshing to see a Japanese film receive a top accolade. Is this a victory for Japanese cinema or should we consider why Shoplifters can’t just be a great story.
Shoplifters is the latest offering from prolific filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda which explores family and the intricate relationships which make a living and breathing unit. Following a Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize for ‘Like Father, Like Son’ in 2013, the film has secured Kore-eda the festival’s highest accolade, the Palme d’Or. With a victory of this magnitude, there is a natural tendency to declare this a victory for Japanese cinema but that would be a reduction of its brilliance. On the surface this film centres on a family who rely on shoplifting to cope with living on the poverty line but chip this away and prepare yourself to step into Kore-eda’s delicate world.
The strength of Shoplifters is in its character development, the portrait of a family is carefully crafted and the characters are nuanced and developed, each with their quirks, each living lives together and apart; the interactions between the family in their pairs is where most of the magic happens and audiences really get a sense of their lives, their motives and their internal struggles. In a country where often the only representation of the East Asian community is shrouded in stereotype, it is a breath of fresh air to see a playful, loving, lustful, calculated and considered spectrum of characters and emotions.
In a recent Q&A, Kore-eda described the makings of this film; from first reading an article on a family that inspired his, how a fishing scene between father and son was the first written and to his process of shooting the film through 35mm rather than digital in order to capture ‘poetry’ as well as revealing that the dialogue between the young actors was unscripted with a few gentle nudges which resulted in organic and endearing moments. There were several questions about Japan which is natural due to the subject matter and the writer however to call this a ‘Japanese film’ would be an insult and would only serve a purpose of limiting its appeal in the UK.
While it’s understandable with the story rooted in Japan and commentary on its society, it is helpful to consider that both of these being true doesn’t and shouldn’t automatically make Kore-eda a spokesman for his country. Shoplifters along with much of his work is an exploration through film on the makings of a family and the complex relationships; strong themes which can resonate in Japan and beyond. The UK tendency to reduce achievements or stories in this way goes someway to reinforcing the film industry’s white and western stories as default and perpetuating the notion of otherness.
This subtle discourse around the films produced outside of western territories or by people of colour only serves to position films, stories and writing on the periphery and limits their ability to resonate with a wider audience. In a fight for creating authentic stories and being accurately represented it is important that we have stories like Shoplifters and they are acknowledged for what they are; an observation on human life with themes and characters that have the ability to resonate across the world – if we would be so kind to let them.
BEATS Org will be screening the Palme d’Or winning Shoplifters on Saturday 17 November, 11am-2pm as the launch of our INFLUENCER screenings. Your chance to see the film ahead of its UK release, only 30 pairs of tickets available, pay for one and receive another ticket to take a friend.
Details and bookings: http://wearebeats.org.uk/