Like The Shape of Water and First Reformed, Broker is a cinematic Rosetta Stone, clarifying the central themes that pervade Hirokazu Kore-eda’s body of work. The writer-director has always sought to illuminate the humanity in the unlikeliest of social pariahs, from deadbeat dads (in After the Storm) to shoplifters (in the aptly titled Shoplifters) to magically animated inflatable sex dolls (in Air Doll, a whimsically literal variation on the premise). Here, he turns his lens on child traffickers—an unconventional subject, to be sure, but fertile ground for conflict in the hands of a storyteller with the proper sensibilities.
Fortunately, Kore-eda tackles the topic with remarkable sensitivity. He neither condones nor condemns his protagonists’ actions; he merely observes them—their flaws, their ambiguities, their nuances—and allows the viewer to decide whether or not they “deserve” to be forgiven. It’s a difficult judgment to make: every character is compassionate and selfish in roughly equal measure; do their ethical lapses truly make them irredeemable? After all, the inflexible bureaucracy of “the system” is rarely kind to underprivileged outsiders; even the most ardent enforcers of “law and order” must acknowledge that crime is often motivated by desperation rather than malice.
Perfectly cast, stylistically spare, and emotionally rich, Broker is a bona fide masterpiece. I’m not terribly consistent in my stance on “auteur theory” (production being an inherently collaborative process), but Kore-eda’s filmography makes a compelling argument in its favor.