Japan's Prime Minister Snubs Cannes Palme D'Or-Winning Director

Salah Malkawi/Getty Images; Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
Shinzo Abe and Hirokazu Kore-eda

Shinzo Abe's failure to congratulate Hirokazu Kore-eda for his film 'Shoplifters' is unusual in Japan, where leaders are usually quick to tout the international recognition and success of its citizens.

The absence of a congratulatory call or message for Cannes Palme d'Or-winner Hirokazu Kore-eda from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has fueled speculation that the themes of social exclusion in Shoplifters (Manbiki Kazoku) have angered the conservative leader.

Shoplifters, which took the top prize at Cannes Film Festival last month, is about a misfit family of petty criminals and shines a light on the rarely examined issue of poverty in Japan.

A spokesperson for Gaga, which co-produces and distributes many of Kore-eda's films, including Shoplifters, told The Hollywood Reporter that the company had never won such a major prize and was unaware of the protocols for official congratulations.

On the Monday after the Cannes victory, chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga offered "heartfelt congratulations" to Kore-eda after being questioned about it at a government press briefing.

Japan's leaders are usually keen to tout international recognition of its citizens and today the government announced that Abe had decided two-time Olympic figure skating gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu would receive a prestigious People's Honor Award. The prime minister personally congratulated Hanyu after his victory at the PyeongChang Winter Games earlier this year.

Abe issued an official congratulation in October last year to Kazuo Ishiguro, the Japan-born British author, for his Nobel Prize in Literature triumph, despite the fact that Ishiguro grew up in the U.K., writes in English and speaks little Japanese.

The prime minster is known to be sensitive to criticism and has called out individual newspapers by name in parliament for critical coverage, an unusual move for a Japanese leader.

The so-called Abenomics policies of Abe's government have been criticized in some quarters for boosting corporate profits and stock prices, but bringing little benefit to ordinary people. Although Japan has a reputation as an egalitarian society, income inequality has risen by some measures, and it is the seventh most unequal country in the OECD club of 37 wealthy nations in terms of relative income poverty.

Shoplifters will be released in Japan on June 8 and was picked up for North America by Magnolia Pictures.