The smallest crimes pay in magnificent Shoplifters

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      Starring Lily Franky. In Japanese, with English subtitles. Rated PG

      A deeply humanistic core connects all of Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-eda’s work, no matter how different in tone or subject. The writer-director’s most recent film, The Third Murder, unravelled a complex homicide case with cold precision that revealed a beating heart of compassion underneath its police procedural. His new one involves crime as well, but of a very different sort.

      Shoplifting is just one of the many low-key hustles associated with one family on the leafy but still crowded outskirts of Tokyo. Things are particularly cramped in the two-room apartment of a retired granny (After the Storm’s Kirin Kiki) who makes everyone hide when the landlord comes around. She’s supposed to be there on her own, not bunking down with her rough-talking daughter Nobuyo Shibata (cast standout Sakura Andô) and even shadier son-in-law Osamu (the quirkily named Lily Franky, who played the poorer dad in Kore-eda’s Like Father, Like Son).

      On top of that, there’s teenage daughter Aki (Mayu Matsuoka), who works in a porntastic strip club, behind a one-way mirror. (Customers have to pay extra to go in the real-life “chat room”.) And also sweet-natured preteen son Shota (Jyo Kairi), who sleeps in a cupboard with hoarded trinkets, and whom Dad takes on those titular store-raiding expeditions for snacks and toys.

      No one’s going to school and almost everyone’s working, albeit at tenuous jobs. Finances, and floor space, are already overstretched when they take in neighbour Yuri (Miyu Sasaki), an adorable five-year-old apparently abandoned by her abusive mother in the dead of winter. The Shibatas do everything wrong, and yet they really enjoy each other and things always seem to work out for them. Until they don’t.

      Along the way, our patient director keeps dropping hints that these connections might not be what they seem. Indeed, as we travel some other familial byways, as when “Grandma” visits her late ex-husband’s other offspring, it becomes clear how little, or much, blood relations can mean. Kore-eda always casts a keen eye on the plight of children, and on the general left-behinds of a supposedly advanced society. Here, in what might be his best picture yet, he beautifully makes the case for picking your own parents.