After one of their shoplifting sessions, Osamu and his son come across a little girl in the freezing cold
At first reluctant to shelter the girl, Osamu’s wife agrees to take care of her after learning of the hardships she faces. Although the family is poor, barely making enough money to survive through petty crime, they seem to live happily together until an unforeseen incident reveals hidden secrets, testing the bonds that unite them…
We spoke with director Kore–Eda Hirokazu via a translator. Check out our exclusive chat below:
Spoilers for Shoplifters ahead.
The Knockturnal: Before we get started, I just wanted to say how grateful I am to get to talk with you.
Kore–Eda Hirokazu: Thank you.
The Knockturnal: You’re welcome. So, now to get to the interview thing: All your films take place in Japan. Do you feel Western Audiences lose anything in the cultural translation?
Kore–Eda Hirokazu: So, yes, I’m sure there are probably some details and things like that which are lost, but I believe firmly in making something that goes beyond that, that transcends it, and is still relevant to Western audiences. So, that is not to say that I would cut something out of a movie thinking “Oh, Western people wouldn’t be able to relate to that.” I would not do that.
The Knockturnal: That’s great. That’s wonderful. I also noticed that in your films, one of the more universal things that you talk about is the competition between nature and nurture, especially in parenting. Is this something you’ve dealt with in your own life?
Kore–Eda Hirokazu: Um, I guess I wouldn’t say that my movies are based on my personal experiences. However, when I made the movie “Like Father, Like Son”, it came from a very painful reality of mine, in that I had a daughter, and at that time, and I didn’t really have a lot of time to spend with her, and I felt like I was missing out on certain aspects of, and it made me really reflect on “Is relationships determined by time and the amount of time” – like over time you develop a relationship, so was I missing out on that. So just having the blood connection – was that enough? Or rather spending time. That concept of blood ties versus amount of time you spent relating with the person was a personal quandary and I took that and made it into a movie in the way that it came out.
The Knockturnal: It seems that same themes go into “Shoplifters” as well. Would you say that this is almost a further delve into the themes you were exploring with “Like Father, Like Son”?
Kore–Eda Hirokazu: So I don’t feel the same, in the sense that, it’s not so much about “Is it a blood tie?”. So the quandary the triggers the story of “Like Father, Like Son” is: Is it a question of time or is it a question of blood connection? Where in this one, in a sense, they become a family after the family has broken together. When they’re no longer together, then they reflect and become, at that point they actually become truly family. So when the child leaves the father, after that the father becomes really his father. And there’s sort of an irony there. When they’re together they’re questioning whether they’re really family, but when they break up, they realize they are. And so, in a sense, it’s beyond time. It’s not a question of how much time you’re together which develops the ties, but something happens, and you identify as a family. And so the starting point is a little bit different.
The Knockturnal: Yes, I see that. To go more onto “Shoplifters”: In “Shoplifters”, something I’ve noticed in this piece compared to some of your other work, is a more overt sense of sexuality. Yet it never feels eroticized. Was this something you were focusing on while making the work, and I just want to hear your thought process around that. Was this an active thought?
Kore–Eda Hirokazu: Yes, it was an active thought.
The Knockturnal: What spurred that? I understand where it was in the story, but what techniques or skills did you use in non-eroticizing scenes like that?
Kore–Eda Hirokazu: Perhaps part of it is that the act itself is never shown. You see before, you see after. That might be part of it. I like the before and after parts. And I think no matter what film, I think it’s that moment after. “After Life”, “After the Storm”. So in this one after is important too.
The Knockturnal: That’s wonderful. (laughter on both of our ends) That’s a great throughline.
Kore–Eda Hirokazu: I can give you a more serious answer, as well.
The Knockturnal: No I love this. It’s important to know the personality, beyond just the skills. Now, the next question: I find it very interesting that in your movies you tend to focus on one primary relationship. Like the father and son, or the sisters, where in this film you focused more on the entire family unit. I wonder what influenced that? Whether it was an active choice like it’s a change in scope we haven’t really seen since “Still Walking” and I was wondering what influenced that for you?
Kore–Eda Hirokazu: It’s true that in the beginning, sort of, as you’re establishing what the film is about, I explore all the different relationships, the wife, the mother, the daughter, the father, the son. All these things came up and I depicted them in a multi-faceted way. But ultimately, the relationship I focused on was the father-son relationship. Particularly in the aspect that in the beginning, I just wanted to establish where the relationship went, and when things went wrong, it ultimately became clearer to me even as I was shooting, that the real relationship being explored here was the father-son one, and the reason why is because the son becomes over time more and more away of what the father’s doing and the crime. And he starts feeling guilt around being a part of these crimes, and that guilt destroys the family from within, and so as I work towards that, as I was shooting that, I became more and more aware of that.
The Knockturnal: It’s interesting then, because like we said with “Father, Like Son”, it’s only when they’re separated that the son is able to view Osamu as a father.
Kore–Eda Hirokazu: Yeah, so both in “Like Father, Like Son” and in this movie it helps them define themselves, like father, though to clarify, two different movies, same theme.
The Knockturnal: Similar themes, similar tropes. In “Father”, it’s the father who realizes, where in “Shoplifters” it’s the son. Just interesting parallels in your work. New one last question. There’s always this interesting conversation in your work surrounding class, and because we’ve been talking about this, in “Like Father, Like Son”, there’s this economic disparity between them, and with the family in “Shoplifters”, and the rest of the world. And I was wondering if there was this appreciation the simpler life, or the love that can be found there?
Kore–Eda Hirokazu: I don’t think that love is easier to develop in poverty. I do not think that. I just want to make it clear that I don’t look at economic disparity’s relationship with love. I was just thinking of how the family Aki came from was wealthy and had its complexities, and the family she lived with now had its own complexities, so I’m not really exploring the relationship between poverty and class and love. That’s not one of my themes. Another way of looking at it were if this incident had really happened, and you had just read an article in the newspaper about how this family existed, and had taught their children how to shoplift, and the grandmother was buried under the house and they were taking her pension, your mind would only think about what horrible bad criminal people they were, so for me, what’s important is to take that, and say what really is happening here is not quite that simple. The grandmother wasn’t murdered, she was a part of it. And shoplifting is a crime, and one could say it’s an abuse to teach a child to shoplift, but it’s also something that ties them, and connected them, and I think that’s what I really wanted to show.
Shoplifters releases November 23rd.