Food: If you want to get the best açaí bowl in town, I recommend going to The Bean. There are several locations within the East Village alone, and I typically get this to-go, unless you are wanting to hang at a coffee shop or have work to do. I get “The Kneel” bowl every time I go, and if you are craving fruit and something cold, this is perfect. The Kneel bowl has blueberries, strawberries and granola. I ate this with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Film: Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Palme d’Or-winning “Shoplifters” became the first Japanese film to do so since “The Eel” in 1997. This carefully calibrated film depicts the story of a family who lives on a grandmother’s meager pension and sends their children to steal from stores, collecting items to re-sell or to get petty snacks and playthings. “Dad says that if it’s in a store, it doesn’t belong to anyone yet,” claims one of the children, a boy named Shota (Jyo Kairi).
A man of the house, Osamu (Lily Franky), and Shota, while heading home one night in the cold, spot a small girl alone on a balcony. They offer her a croquette to be kind, and she follows them home to their cramped residence. The three of them are greeted by a young woman assumed to be the mother named Nobuyo (Ando Sakura), another somewhat younger woman named Aki (Matsuoka Mayu) and a grandmother (Kiki Kilin). They live in squalor, but it is quickly apparent that the family is close and happy with each other – joking around and helping with household chores.
Osamu and Nobuyo know they should take the young girl, Juri, back to her family, but when they do, they hear a violent scuffle and keep her with them instead. “We are not asking for ransom – it’s not kidnapping, we are protecting her,” they justify their actions to themselves. By showing the love that this group has for each other at the forefront, before exploring their true familial relation, “Shoplifters” earns the affection of the audience. It calls to question what defines a family. They begin to raise Juri as their own – providing food and clothes for her – and she spends the days with Shota, learning to steal small items from stores with him. At one point, she hesitates to accept the clothing she is given because she does not want to be beaten for it later, and in this heartbreaking moment, it is clear that her true home life is not a home to her at all. She is much happier in this new environment.
Kore-eda when speaking about “Shoplifters” acknowledges that with his films (“Nobody Knows” and “Like Father, Like Son”), he wants to shed light on a society in which people are struggling to make a living. He chooses here to focus on the people who live on the outskirts of society, and who are often ignored. This calls to mind the American filmmaker, Sean Baker, who gained acclaim for “The Florida Project” (focusing on the children of the hidden homeless), but has also made “Take Out” about a Chinese immigrant struggling to make a living as a delivery man in New York City. These are people who often fall to the periphery, but these directors force the audience to confront those who are often invisible.
Each character is shown intimately during the course of their day jobs, the quiet moments. Aki is a “companion” which in Japanese culture is somewhere between a sex worker and a paid friend. Shota was found in a car and does not know his biological parents. Nobuyo works at a laundry mat where she steals items of clothing and knickknacks. Though, these characters are technically criminals, their lives are quiet and simple. The film moves along at a similar pace. The characters emotional connections to one another and the world around them are the primary focus, and action is secondary.
There is a sense that their luck and closeness is fragile. It cannot last, and consequences feel imminent. The final portion of this film is heart-wrenching. It haunts you with questions about what defines a family and warps the lines between right and wrong. “Shoplifters” is driven by poignant performances and will stick with you long after viewing. A must see.