Hirokazu Koreeda has made an emotional, classic film that will not soon be forgotten by those who see it. Join us as we take a look at one of the greatest Japanese films of all time!
Rare is a Japanese film that can attempt to overcome two of the industry's most arduous challenges, children and international success, and still be successful. Nobody Knows (or Daremo Shiranai in Japanese) is one of these films, and not only does it overtake these obstacles, it is such an extraordinary film that it will surely become a classic not only in Japan, but on an international level as well. It is unbelievably moving, and it is a film that will stay on the viewer's mind for days.
Written, directed, and produced by Hirokazu Koreeda, the man behind the highly acclaimed Japanese films After Life and Maborosi, Nobody Knows tells the story of four children left in an apartment by their mother, given only a small amount of money.
As the film begins, Keiko Fukishima and her son Akira move into their new apartment. Unbeknownst to the landlord, Keiko has three other children (all of whom have different fathers), hidden in suitcases to sneak them into the apartment. They are given strict rules to never go outside under any condition, except for Akira, and they therefore take on lives very different from those of normal children at their respective ages.
Soon after they have moved in, Keiko leaves on fairly short notice, leaving them with the necessary money to pay the bills and buy food. It was then left up to the children to survive, and keep up the appearance that it is still Akira and Keiko in the apartment. The film thus takes on a somber mood that will remain throughout. Not only is the situation without a mother explored, Akira's struggle to make friends and be content without going to school is also explored throughout the course of the film.
At age twelve, Akira is the oldest of the group, and is therefore left in charge of budgeting the small amount of money they've been given, as well as taking care of all of the younger children. The second oldest, Kyoko, is arguably the most responsible of the group, taking care of nearly everything outside of the finances. The two younger children, Shigeru and Yuki, provide quite a bit of comic relief throughout the film, adding humor even in the darkest of times. As time goes on, they get to know a high school girl named Saki, who is dealing with her own social and apparent domestic problems. Saki is a great support for them as the months go by without their mother.
Nobody Knows is told in an extremely unique way, and it relies on the action of the characters rather than long scenes of dialogue. It moves at a fairly slow pace, but this only increases the emotion and feeling towards the characters. Because of this, it takes on a very subtle yet engaging manner of storytelling. It also has a sense of rawness and realism as well, yet it maintains the warmth of childhood innocence.
In addition to the character-based progression, the film was shot with a very minimalist approach, and the film could not possibly be close to what it is with the outstandingly beautiful directing job of Koreeda. The lighting is very delicate, and the video is somewhat grainy. At times, the film even seems like a documentary rather than a narrative story. It was shot chronologically, a practice not so common in film anymore. There is rarely any music in the film, but when there is, it is a soothing acoustic melody, lending itself quite well to the characters' actions. Nobody Knows is an exercise in subtlety, and much of its success is because of this.
The four children in the film are all played by first-time actors, but due to Koreeda's reliance on improvisation rather than linear scripting, their emotions really come through. Yuya Yagira, the actor who plays Akira, won best actor at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. One of the most significant challenges of film making can also be working with very young children, something that Koreeda pulls off perfectly in Shigeru's case by just letting the actor, Hiei Kimura, be himself. Emotion is the central factor in the progression of the story, and the characters experience many, ranging from sorrow to hope to dreams of going far away, all intensified by the beautiful cinematography.
A film so untouched by special effects and traditional storytelling is a rare thing these days, and Nobody Knows is a great refresher for just how amazing a movie can truly be. Although it officially came out in the U.S. in early February, it is still making the rounds at various theaters and film festivals across the country, so a few lucky ones might still be able to catch it. For those who cannot, a DVD release is probably just around the corner. Such incredible film making is hard to come by, and I am certain that it will be a while before I see another movie that can top this.