Stars: Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Kirin Kiki, Kairi Jō, Miyu Sasaki, Mayu Matsuoka
Another year, another masterly humanist picture from prolific Japanese writer-director Kore-Eda. This Palme d’Or winner sees him returning to his pet subjects: family relations and the Japanese state’s indifference to the suffering of children.
It begins with cheerfully roguish father Osamu (Franky) and his shaggy-haired young son Shota (Jō) returning from a shoplifting expedition at a local supermarket, where they come across a little girl, Yuri (Saskai) shivering in the cold. They take her home to the cluttered hovel where they live with Osamu’s wife Noboyu (Ando), their warm-hearted grownup daughter Aki (Matsuoka), and mischievous grandmother Hatsue (Kiki).
The cynical Nobuyu is initially reluctant to take the little girl in, but later relents when Yuri’s parents fail to even file a missing person’s report, and Nobuyu notices burn marks on the little girl’s arm.
Alongside their shoplifting excursions the family are all employed: mother and father are working at a building site and a sweatshop laundry respectively; the daughter at a strip club; while the wily grandmother claims her ex-husband’s pension, while occasionally hitting up the children of his second marriage for money.
Despite their disreputable ways they are a loving family, fully supportive of each other. Then, young Shota, after hearing a remark from a local shopkeeper, begins to question their lifestyle and when Yuri’s disappearance is eventually reported, the inevitable disruptions occur.
This is a work of real moral complexity which sees the director examining what constitutes a family, while highlighting the privations the Japanese underclass undergo.
All the cast are excellent, with Kore-Eda once more exhibiting his ability to elicit naturalistic performances from the youngest members of his cast. The director fosters such intimacy with the flawed but compassionate characters that by the third act, where matters take a real dark turn and disturbing revelations emerge, they still retain our sympathy.