Audiences (me included) love to watch plucky, resilient kids, and the 2004 film “Dare mo shiranai” (Nobody Knows), written, directed, and edited by Koreeda Hirokazu was/is beloved by many. The catastrophe of four children, the oldest of whom is twelve, being abandoned unfolds gradually, as the mother Keiko (You) leaves her children (by four different fathers) alone more and more and then totally abandons them in a Tokyo apartment which she rented acknowledging only one child, 12-year-old Akira (Yagira Yuya, who received the Best Actor award at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival). She said she would return from Osaka for Christmas, but doesn’t.
The money Keiko left runs out, the gas, telephone, and water are cut off. The four break out of hiding for a bit of a splurge at the minimart (from which he has refused to shoplift, despite urging of two of his pals). Akira would rather play baseball than try to manage his increasingly rebellious siblings and the desperate finances of the abandoned family. (None can go to school. They subsist on ramen.) One child dies and is buried by the others near a Haneda Airport runway.
Akira is not willing to seek help from authorities, because he believes (with good reason) that the children would then be separated.
There is little camera movement and few closeups. The static medium- and long-shots maintain a distance from what seems to be being documented (“based on a true story” from Nishi-Sagamo in 1988 that long haunted Koreeda).
A lot of what the kids do and say was improvised. Though the film runs 141 minutes, I’d bet there was a lot more footages shot. Maybe there will be an 8-hour director’s uncut release.
I often find the music in Japanese films (those not scored by Takemitsu Toru!) dubious: distracting or just inept. The ukelele music here, performed by Gontiti, falls into the latter category for me.
“Nobody Knows” is set in affluent if heedless Tokyo rather than in impoverished settings like those of “Children of God” and “The Spirit of the Beehive.”
(There is an interesting 2004 interview of Koreeda by Mark Schilling about the making of the movie at http://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2004/08/25/culture/no-easy-answers-from-kore-eda/#.WE3V8JLHKUs.)
©2016, Stephen O. Murray