Shoplifters, Hakuchu Dodo, and the Florida Project

Shoplifters (万引き家族) was the first film by Hirokazu Kore-eda I’ve watched. When I first hear the story, though, I immediately thought Hakuchu Dodo (白昼堂々), a Shochiku film from 1968. which I saw at a Kiyoshi Atsumi retrospective a few years back at the Togeki.

Directed by prolific director Yoshitaro Nomura, it starts Atsumi and Chieko Baisho as leaders of a gang of shoplifters in Tokyo. Atsumi is basically playing basically a more self-aware, criminally minded version of Tora-san, while Baisho plays a character widely against the Sakura character-type for which she would come to be best known. (I love Yoji Yamada, but the talent of Chieko Baisho can’t really be understood without seeing her playing much more unrestrained characters in films not directed by Yamada, especially those films where she co-stared with Atsumi.)

While Kore-eda’s film is serious, Nomura’s is a comedy, centered around a set piece in a department store. Though the film is now 50 years old, I found it inventive and funny. Without seeing Kore-eda’s film, I thought that difference in tone between two films with the central theme of shoplifting was interesting.

I finally saw Shoplifters in at the Cinema Iris in Hakodate. And I immediately thought of the film I had just seen (twice) by a director whose previous work I haven’t seen, Sean Baker’s The Florida Project (フロリダ・プロジェクト).

Both films are about non-traditional/non-nuclear families living on the edges of their respective societies. . These series of tweets in English and Japanese also mention specific plot points that are similar in the two movies. Both films center around kids (This review makes the connection between The Florida Project and the centrality of children in other Kore-eda films). And, when state intervention finally comes (which is shown in both trailers, so it shouldn’t be a surprise), it doesn’t bring any closure or solve anything, and perhaps makes things even worse for the individuals involved.

The plot is almost besides the point, as from the start you know things aren’t going to end well for both families. What makes both worth multiple viewings is the atmosphere, the beautiful mise a scene, and the sublime performances from all involved. In fact, one reason I wanted to see Florida Project again was just to watch the glorious colors that Baker filmed in Kissimmee.

Shoplifters also has some Tora-san connections, with Akira Emoto, who appeared in Tora-san 29 and was one of the main characters of Tora-san 41. He plays a small but pivitol role in Shoplifters, which I am tempted to stay is similar to Willem Dafoe’s character, though Dafoe’s hotel manager is a main character in The Florida Project while Emoto’s shopkeeper only appears briefly. Kirin Kiki also was in the third Tora-san film, playing an innkeeper, as well as a Truck Yaro film and a few Toshiya Fujita films, among many others.

As an aside, I still remember first hearing about Lily Frankie from watching Oden-kun years ago and reading through some of his essays at the time. I am still a bit amazed he is now an actor of such caliber.

Both the Florida Project and Shoplifters are still showing around Japan, with The Florida Project returning to Tokyo in September at the Cocomaru Theater in Kichijoji Theater, Tollywood in Shimokitazawa, and Ginrei Hall in Iidabashi. Sadly, I don’t have any knowledge of a showing of Hakuchu Dodo in theaters, but you can see on Yahoo Japan’s Gyao! Store streaming service. See them if you can.