Inspired by true events that took place in Tokyo in 1988, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Nobody Knows” 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 twelve year-old Akira (Yuya Yagira) and his mother Keiko (You) move into a new apartment. The three other children move in to the apartment secretly -two young ones in suitcases-, hiding from the landlord. His two sisters Kyoko (Ayu Kitaura) and Yuki (Momoko Shimizu), and their younger rascal brother Shigeru (Hiei Kimura) have never been to school and other than Akira; none of them are even allowed to step outside their confinement 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 until they no longer have electricity or water, let alone food on the table. 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 heartless.
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 thirty 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 –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 film spectacular.Rating: A