Shoplifters ★★★★★

It's been hours and my eyes are still welling up. I genuinely couldn't speak without getting choked up right after watching Hirokazu Koreeda's Shoplifters. It is presented without melodrama and stripped from saccharine sentimentality, and yet it is an unbelievably powerful emotional experience. It is complex, questioning hardened ideas of family, motherhood, fatherhood, exploitation, and abuse, and it never gives its characters and audience an easy way out.

I'm so glad this has made such an impact in Japan. It's the film that the country needs right now. There's a tendency to tuck our pain away in the corner, and it's rare to see a Japanese story that tears back the false ideals and washes away the padding around the cracks to expose the wounds of the recession. This might make it sound like Shoplifters is misanthropic doom and gloom. It's not at all. Though it leaves with many tragic, broken situations still in place, it is beautiful and filled with humanity. There are several moments that made me weep (like proper embarrasing-because-I'm-in-a-cinema weeping), but the relationship that mother figure Nobuya (Sakura Ando, up there with the best actresses of modern Japanese cinema) shares with the young Yuri/Juri/Lin (played so incredibly well by Miyu Sasaki) tore my heart to shreds. Thinking about the moment where Ando shows the difference between love and abuse is making it hard to see the screen through tears.

Perhaps this hit home for me because I currently call Japan home and the makeshift family of Shoplifters remind me so much of people I know, but I really can't imagine anyone watching this and failing to make a connection. Koreeda has crafted gut-wrenching, heart-warming, soul-slapping perfection. What a way to end the year. This is, undoubtedly, my pick for the best of 2018.

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