Inspired by true events that took place in Tokyo in 1988, Hirokazu
Kore-eda's "Nobody Knows" ("Dare mo shiranai," IMDb listing) tells the survival story of four children
abandoned by their mother in a tiny apartment in the suburbs of Tokyo
over a period of six months.
The story starts when 12-year-old Akira (Yuya Yagira) and his
mother Keiko (You) move into a new apartment. The three other children secretly move in to the
apartment -- two young ones in suitcases -- hiding from the
landlord. Akira's two sisters Kyoko (Ayu Kitaura) and Yuki (Momoko
Shimizu), and their younger rascal brother Shigeru (Hiei Kimura), have
never been to school. Other than Akira, none of the siblings are allowed to step outside their confinement, so as to avoid being spotted by neighbors.
When their child-like mother goes out one day as if to work, telling
only Akira that she might take a while to come back and appointing him
as the person in charge, their journey into orphanage begins. Unable
to work, the children have to endure with the measly money their
mother has left. Nevertheless, they never lose their childish
naivete. Faced with the predicament of not being able to bathe or even
drink water, they set off outside. Their exhilaration once outside is
ingeniously portrayed. Seeds of plants, playgrounds and children going
to school mesmerize them. Yet these worldly things are not matters
that breed jealousy in them, these children are never willful or
The film could have been the coming of age story of Akira, if Kore-eda
had chose to portray the story as a melodramatic vexation. Instead he
steers clear of manipulation and depicts the dramatic story as
simplistically as it can be told. The audience is never choked and
even though the obstacles the children face and the intensity of their
affliction is overwhelming, the rendering of them is not contrived or
manipulative, but remarkably transparent.
Akira's demeanor is wiser and more mature than even some who are
30 years his senior. Burdened with providing for his siblings he
strives to remain levelheaded, and in fact does so with great ease.
Yagira's performance is spectacular, and combined with the other three children
-- who never cease to amaze, or make us wonder whether they are acting
or if they really were the children abandoned for six months -- the film
offers profound drama.
Small details -– Kyoko cleaning the playground toy after Yuki goes down
and leaves trails of soil, or Akira giving his siblings money for
Christmas pretending it is from their mother -- are what make this film
affectionate and pleasant. In contrast to the story, which is
heartbreaking, the storytelling is pure and that is what makes the
Filmfodder Grade: A