“This is What You Do”: The Transformative Power of Love in ‘Shoplifters’

Kore-eda’s masterwork about abuse and love is a cathartic, redemptive experience.

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Wednesday, October 17th 2018 at 8:15pm was when Hirokazu Kore-eda’s masterpiece of a film began for me. Shoplifters (2018) tells the story of a dysfunctional found family living in poverty on the fringes of Tokyo. After one of their shoplifting sessions, Osamu and his son Shota come across a young girl outside in the freezing cold after her abusive parents kicked her out. They decide to take her in and name her Yuri, but after finding out that she has been declared a missing person, a series of events erupt that test the group’s belief that it is love – not blood – that makes you family. 

At 49 minutes and 17 seconds into the film’s runtime was when I saw that for me, the film would be never ending. After realizing that Yuri’s blood family abused her, the matriarch of the group Nobuyo sits her down in front of a fire as they burn her old clothes. She embraces Yuri and tells her what she and myself have always needed to hear: 

“The reason they hurt you isn’t because you are bad. If they say they hurt you because they love you, that is a lie. If they really loved you, this is what you do. This is what you do.” 

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It was at this moment that I wished I could be held by this film forever. I would have been perfectly content sitting in theater 7 of the AMC until my body decayed if it meant that this film’s runtime outlived me. I’ve never gone a full 12 rounds with a Kore-eda film before it knocks me out and tears my heart out from tenderness. By the time the final act rolls around my eyes are puffy and red from so many tears to so many scenes. This scene in particular though will forever be my favorite from any of his films. 

Growing up being mistreated is a trip. Your worldview and perception of yourself is shaped by these early experiences. You begin to wonder what’s wrong with you, and that maybe this is simply the treatment that you deserve. It takes a shattering of your understanding to find a better way to live. It isn’t easy to realize that the way you were treated for 20+ years shouldn’t have happened, and often you find yourself terrified at the prospect of unpacking all that pain. None of it can be undone or taken back, but must be confronted in order for a new you to grow. How do I move past this experience, and can I become better for it? 

As I watched Yuri’s old life being relinquished — symbolized by the burning of her clothing — I realized that I was experiencing the same thing. As I sat in the theater with tears in my eyes, I was embraced by the film as Yuri was by Nobuyo, and in that moment I felt that something new and truly sincere could prosper for the both of us. Nobuyo might as well have said those words directly to me as well. 

I’ve never truly sobered up from this scene. The kindness given between this family is so excruciatingly tender that it has forever left me raw. Just thinking about this scene again to write this I begin to tear up. As painful as it may feel, I am forever grateful for this film telling me what my child self always needed to hear. It’s a powerful thing to know that someone, even if they are not in the exact same situation, knows what people like us are going through. 

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While art certainly should not be a replacement for therapy, it can certainly be transformative. It’s a beautiful thing to feel devastated and restored all in one instance. Sometimes you must abandon what you once knew, sometimes it’s the only way. If I ever get to meet Kore-eda in my lifetime, I’ll be sure to thank him. If he ever reads this, I need him to know how much I owe him for this scene, and what it allowed me to realize about myself. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for being born.

Shoplifters, and this scene in particular, are vital depictions of what love actually looks like and how you treat one another. I hope that many people like me have gotten the chance to watch it, and have begun to unpack their traumas even sooner than I did. Most importantly this scene taught me how powerful being kind to one another truly can be. It’s clear to me that Kore-eda’s life goal is to show us how miraculous and extraordinary to, in other people, find love, solidarity, recognition, and kindness. I hope through his other’s work we can all show our love for one another in increasingly kinder ways, because this is what you do. This is what you do.

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