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My Favourite Film of 2018


[I spoil nothing because I hate summarizing plots and hate having movies spoiled. The trailer does spoil quite a bit, but then, I saw the trailer before I saw the movie and I survived to tell this tale.]

My favourite film of the year is a foreign film not called ROMA. I recommended ROMA in my last post (eight days ago), calling the Mexican film the best I’d seen all year in theatres, and it was, to that point. Then I saw Hirokazu Kore-eda’s SHOPLIFTERS (MANBIKI KAZOKU). If you couldn’t already tell, or didn’t already know, it’s a Japanese film. Being married to someone Japanese and having spent half a decade in the country I obviously have bias in that direction. I should also mention that Kore-eda’s earlier film, AFTERLIFE (1998), is a film that has stayed with me since I saw it in theatres when I was twenty-two. I was also hugely impressed by what I think was his best known movie prior to this, NOBODY KNOWS (2004). When I heard the premise to SHOPLIFTERS, which sounded worryingly similar to what NOBODY KNOWS deals with, I was concerned this latest outing was going to be a case of an artist at that point in a career when they begin to recycle their own work, as seems to happen at later stages of even the great masters’ oeuvres (Oh Haruki Murakami, how I wish you could go cobble shoes for a few years, or just go be with people for a while).

Turns out, in this case, I had nothing to fear. Kore-eda is well within — if not at the very apex of — his craft. I’m not alone in thinking this. SHOPLIFTERS not only made Obama’s year end best of list, but also won the Palme d’Or.

For decades Kore-eda made documentaries for NHK (the Japanese equivalent to the BBC) before turning to feature films, and his objective lens on his country and his people is so exactingly honed and so profoundly humane. I’ve never seen anyone capture Japan the way it feels to live in it. And Kore-eda is a master of just that. His Tokyo looks nothing like what Sophia Coppola portrayed (so beautifully) in LOST IN TRANSLATION, a film I love very much, btw. But Kore-eda’s is not the Tokyo of tourist visits. It’s the Tokyo that people live in.

SHOPLIFTERS is not an easy movie, but neither is it a dreary film by any means. Playing hope off tragedy and back again, what SHOPLIFTERS is is a masterpiece. If you can see it on a big screen, and are so inclined I’d love to know what you think.

Jon Mendelsohn