What makes a family? Love? Blood? Both? Neither? This is the central theme of Shoplifters, another great drama by Kore-eda Hirokazu and the winner of Palme d’Or in 2018. The film has a tendency to reveal the information to the audience gradually. What looks like a complete family in the beginning, a family that tries to give shelter to a little girl, step by step turns out to be a group of people who have gotten together to “form” a family, a family they want, not one they were born into. Some of the characters explicitly state their thought about the fact that one can’t choose their family.
Everyone in this “family” is somehow hurt by their blood family, whether by parents or spouses. They have come together with this shared pain to care for each other. However, the reality is far from the romanticized idea of “one can choose their family” if they want to. These individuals have secrets from each other as well as from all the outsiders and these secrets finally become their Achilles’ heel.
This aspect of their lives is masterfully portrayed in the images as well. In most shots, the static camera frames certain people and leaves other people out of the frame. The off-screen space becomes prominent, as a lot of actions take place there. We don’t see them as unified; we don’t see all the actions; we can’t have access to everything in that family.
Furthermore, there’s an abundant use of frame-within-frames in the film, where some characters are seen within a door or window frame and some characters are left outside of that inner frame. The family’s members are not always a unified being; on the opposite, a lot of times, they are individual beings separated from each other by walls and frames.
In the end, it is the revelation of their collective and individual secrets that makes the family collapse, leaves one in jail, leaves one feeling hatred, and to make things more complicated, makes some of them closer to each other. While the sequence where the characters interact with the detectives feels out of place and it is too expository for a film ridden by secrets, hidden information, and subtexts, it has an important function in the film. The force of the police and society wants to break up this family, as they do not believe one can form a family without blood relationship. This is explicitly stated by one of the detectives. The detectives also somehow manipulate a story to create a hatred between family members.
The question remains in the end: Can one choose their family? Does a “chosen” family guarantee that people are together out of love and they won’t abandon each other? What about a “born-into” family?