Dir and screenplay: Kore-Eda Hirokazu
Cast: Lily Franky, Kirin Kiki, Sakura Ando, Mayu Matsuoka, Jyo Kairi, Miyu Sasaki.
121 mins, Japan, 2018
Watched by: Sarah and Ismay
This Palme d’Or winner is a film about loneliness and love in the modern world; it is at once specifically Japanese and yet simultaneously universal.
In a tiny one-room apartment hidden away on the suburban edge of Tokyo live mother, father, grey-haired granny, 10-year old Shoto, and his young aunty, or perhaps cousin. Joining them is a little girl, ‘rescued’ by the father from a balcony on a freezing cold night. Yuri, or Lin as they decide to call her, is skinny and half-starved, silent, covered in cuts and bruises.
This crowded family life is a wonderful mixture of the ordinary and the strange – at least to English eyes. Ismay has recently been in Japan visiting uncle and aunt who live in Yamaguchi. She was familiar with much in the film that was strange to me: the constant snacking, the lack of space, the highly organized interiors, the apparent aloofness or aloneness of individuals within crowds.
The ordinary: Granny (Kirin Kiki) goes regularly to the bank to draw out her widow’s pension; mother (Sakura Ando) does the cooking when she gets home from her job in a laundry; younger sister/ cousin (Mayu Matsuoka) also goes out to work … in a one-way-mirrored sex-parlour, where all the young women dress as schoolgirls. Not quite so ordinary, perhaps.
Also not quite so ordinary is the main activity that underpins the family economy: father (Lily Franky) and Shoto (Jyo Kairi) are regular shoplifters and provide the weekly shop for the family. They have it down to a fine art, working as a pair. Before each ‘lift’, Shoto performs a small magic ritual, circling his fingers and touching his face. Mother pilfers from the laundry, and it seems that the only legal tenant of the tiny flat is Granny.
The acting is superb. Each character, even the little girl (Miyu Sasaki), somehow shines with a kind of grace.
One day they take a bus to the seaside. Granny sits on the sand and watches her ‘family’ play by the water’s edge. How wonderful to be able to choose one’s own family, to give love because you have love to give, to receive love because that’s what you want and need.
But the two children, Shoto and Yuri, did not choose. And the family begins to unravel, in a crescendo of sadness. At last, but too late, Shoto calls the father ‘Dad’. Before the mother is put away for a number of crimes, including kidnapping, the young policewoman tells her: ‘You can only be a mother if you have given birth.’ But the film has shown us that that is not true.
Ismay and I absolutely loved it.