We all just want to feel like we belong. Koreeda Hirokazu spent years establishing a distinct voice within Japanese cinema, and increasingly global cinema, before recalibrating it and recasting himself as the premier purveyor of contemporary Japanese family dramas; a recent departure aside, he's back where he belongs with Shoplifters, one of Koreeda's most compelling and most moving of such pictures. And yet this family is barely a family at all, instead a ragtag band of outcasts who find family in their shared misfortunes, and who share that sense of family with each other. This is a volatile, vulnerable familial unit, but also a deeply, intrinsically tender one - here, the love that is chosen and cultivated is stronger than any other love, and the subtle structural and emotional tools employed by Koreeda to make this point ensure that even the most mitigating factors cannot yet taint that love, nor our shared appreciation of it.
Koreeda litters his narrative with little clues to undisclosed details that never feel like clues - they feel like reasonable developments, which is precisely because they are that too. As effective as this movie's devastating final sequences might have been were they entirely untelegraphed, they're even more so due to the weight of detail with which they appear to us, and even more again due to the sudden deluge of detail that thus occurs to us, the hints that we hadn't heeded in the first place. Koreeda directs with such assuredness, his actors perform with such compassion, that you never get the sense that you're being misled, as indeed you're not, and so the compassion in his own efforts registers strong with the viewer, our confidence in his abilities not once called into doubt, not once exploited.
As Shoplifters casually, non-judgementally explores the darkness upon which this precarious, yet utterly convincing happiness lies, the richness of Koreeda's conceits come into view, alongside the admiration that he was able to hold up such a projection of contentedness for so long. He is blessed with one marvellous ensemble after another throughout his movies, however, making the job somewhat easier (or is that harder, as after all, it's Koreeda who gets these performances out of them?). There's such sincerity and openness to the writing, and each performer seems to have established a vivid, innate understanding of their role prior to filming - once again, total confidence in these artists' abilities, that it even becomes difficult to conceive of any of them in another part ever again. And indeed, many of us may not, with the recent death of Kiki Kirin, who was one of the world's most talented actors. Her storyline in Shoplifters is enough to bring me to tears even now, quite some time after seeing this lovely movie. We'll miss you, Kirin!