Director Hirokazu Kore-eda has weathered criticism since his film "Shoplifters" took home the Palme d’Or at the 2018 Cannes international film festival in May.

Some have criticized the film's subject matter and others have been unhappy that Kore-eda declined congratulations from the government.

In a recent interview, the director shared his thoughts with The Asahi Shimbun on the public reception and backlash he has received since he pocketed the highest honor at one of the most prestigious international film festivals.

The publicity has not hurt the film at the box office. In the month since "Shoplifters" opened in Japan in June, 2.85 million viewers have seen it.

“I am pleased that a wide range of age groups, from teens and even those in their 80s, have watched it,” Kore-eda said. “Many films produced nowadays target a narrow audience, so I think it’s a good thing to have a film like (‘Shoplifters’).”

The film earned the top honor for its delicate depiction of a marginalized family living on the fringes in Tokyo. However, in Japan, the storyline became subjected to criticism on social networking sites for “depicting the shame of Japan” while using government funding to make the film and that it was "endorsing criminal activities.”

Adding to that, Kore-eda’s decision to decline a commendation from the Japanese government, citing that he wanted to “maintain his distance from authorities,” fueled criticism, but also was praised.

Ironically, such news and online debates over the film are believed to have contributed to its box office success.

"Shoplifters" earned 3.4 billion yen at the box office as of July 8.

“I didn’t orchestrate a controversy to market the film,” Kore-eda joked.

Kore-eda explained that he declined the commendation because accepting it would “contradict what I have always been saying, if I had behaved like a grown-up and visited the education ministry office with the (Palme d’Or) trophy to pose for photos with the education minister.

“The tendency of the Japanese public to consider a grant for art as ‘state charity’ is not just for films. It is the same for universities’ research grants, and it has the same roots as in attacking people living on welfare, despite that these are the rights of Japanese nationals from the beginning.

“I believe that one positive outcome from this fuss was how it raised discussion over governmental subsidies and what they are meant to be."

He said it is an accepted practice in European countries that state-funded film projects are often critical of authorities.

“It is righteous to receive state subsidies to make films that criticize the state--I want Japanese people to accept such European values.

“I know saying what I said would make me a target of criticism, but I must keep acting (on my beliefs).

“Culture will die if obedience to power becomes a requisite for receiving public funding.”

"Shoplifters" is about a family that ekes out a humble living by earning petty wages and shoplifting. But it also depicts how a boy started to develop a sense of guilt over shoplifting as the story progresses.

“That is central to this film. Anyhow, they (viewers) will get that if they watch it, so any publicity is good publicity. It means (‘Shoplifters’) is being talked about by those who usually don’t go to theaters.”

Kore-eda denies that the film turns a blind eye to criminal activities, but he says Japanese always have had an appetite for stories about villains.

“For example, there are many kabuki plays that center on villains. Japanese traditionally enjoy such plays.

“Rather, I find it alarming that in today’s society, people completely detach themselves from those who resort to crime.

“A young girl was killed in a child abuse case in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward (in March). The parents deserve punishment, but struggling single mothers may feel they could fall into the same dark side if they were pushed a little further.

“It is same for the Shinkansen attack,” said Kore-eda, referring to the indiscriminate hatchet attack that occurred on a bullet train in June that left a passenger dead and two other passengers injured.

“Rather than discussing tightening security screenings at railway stations, we need to improve the social security system to prevent pushing desperate people to the edge. That is the only way to reduce such crimes.”

Kore-eda has been raising an alert on the tendency of presenting oversimplified, easy-to-understand narratives that today’s media often fall into. His films, on the other hand, offer little explanation.

“That’s because life is never simple,” said Kore-eda. “Producing a narrative that is easy to understand is not important. Rather, I believe we have to pass on that something that apparently seems simple is indeed complicated.”