I went to see “Shoplifters” (or Une affaire de famille in French) on Friday after work, right after the short vacation had begun. There were not more than 10 of us inside the screening room, everybody else was still busy flocking in shopping malls around Saint-Lazare to choose last-minute Xmas gifts. It was a craze out there, with lights and sound and music jingling along the moving crowd. In here, everyone was quiet, there were some laughters now and then, but the last scene was so heavy that noone said anything, we all sat there in silence looking at the scrolling credits. It was not a movie to cry out loud. It was the kind that breaks your heart, quietly, gently and beautifully, with its subtlety and sensitivity. You are left to think and question and challenge what you have known.
But when Juri placed her chin up the balcony and looked out far into nothingness, tears finally streamed down my face at their own will. Her deeply sorrowful eyes showed such maturity for a 5-year-old that I could not help but break down. What is she looking for? How much has she suffered? How wise beyond her age did she have to become in order to survive in this cruel world? There’s no music in the background to emphasize the tragic effects or to ease the isolation, the kind of technique that is so often tacticfully calculated to play with one’s soft spot, manipulating the audience’s emotions, telling you when to laugh and when to cry. The movie disruptedly ended right then and there. With nothing. It’s bare and merciless, it leaves you dried and pained. A purely fragile emptiness that makes your heart just sink.
Unlike the warm, heart-felt theme of “Our Little Sister” that will soften all the sharp edges in your life, “Shoplifters” dwells in a darker side of a so-called ‘family’, patched up by broken people in a make-believe supposedly blood-tied environment that reflect a dysfunctional aspect of modern Japan. Amid the warmth and gentleness in everyday-life moments, one is gripped by the uneasy feeling that grows bigger and bigger as the true motives and intents of family members and the people around them are revealed one by one. Hirokazu Kore-eda has his distinctive mastery in storytelling through the delicate camera angles and sublime portraiture of characters with an immense compassion and tenderness. Nothing finetuned or exaggerated, no splendure nor spectacle, all modest and natural, profoundly raw and ultimately touching, as it should be. The re-encounter with Mayu Matsuoka is a pleasant surprise. Our cute little Kikko has grown up so much since Little Forest.
When I left the cinema, the madding crowd had dissolved. I was still sobbing as I passed a Syrian family by the bus stop. I gave a note of 10 euro, which was all that I had in cash, to the mother holding a little baby in hand. She smiled and said something that was supposed to be words of gratitude, I smiled back and was about to wish them a merry Christmas. But looking at the little boy, not more than 4 years-old, still awake at 11:20, his eyes so soft and tired and traumatized, I wondered what kind of hypocrite I would be in front of their devastated situation. Above us, the moon was shining bright after the rain, oblivious to the fact that somewhere, someone is celebrating the holidays with their beloved family in an exotic land, someone penniless like me who is still fortunate enough to be fully fed, clothed and roofed, and someone else who has to spend their night in the -1° cold. All of us, under the same sky.
“This too shall pass”, I said to myself, all this suffering and joyviality alike. Like the summer fireworks that the Shibatas watched with pure delight in the narrow but luxuriant garden, happiness just is a fleeting dream.