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Thread: NOBODY KNOWS - A film by Kore'eda

  1. #1
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    NOBODY KNOWS - A film by Kore'eda

    NOBODY KNOWS (Dare mo shiranai)

    Directed by Hirokazu Kore'eda (2004)

    Hirokazu Kore'eda's Nobody Knows is a film of deep compassion about four young children abandoned by their mother in a small apartment in Tokyo. Based on a real incident in 1988, the film was written, directed, produced, and edited by Kore'eda whose earlier films, Maborosi and After Life were introspective meditations on life and death. Though his latest film is primarily a coming-of-age film about the transformation of a pre-adolescent boy, no film I've seen in recent memory has filled me with as much sadness for the failure of modern society to provide a coherent set of values for people. While there have been other films about the alienation of big city life, particularly by Tsai Ming-ling (The River, What Time Is it There?) they tend to be cold and impersonal and convey an emotional deadness. Such is not the case here where the children's natural vivacity and warmth make their closeness to each other more real, and ultimately all the more heartbreaking.

    The center of the film is 12-year old Akira who must care for his brothers and sisters when his mother leaves the home. Akira is remarkably portrayed by Yuya Yagira who was named Best Actor for his performance at Cannes in 2004. His strong and compassionate eyes reveal a depth of understanding, rare in an actor that young. Supporting him is his sister ten-year old Kyoko (Kitaura Ayu), seven-year old Shigeru (Kimura Hiei), and four-year old Yuki (Shimizu Momoko), all from different fathers. The children's birth was never registered and they do not attend school. They are the ultimate city dwellers, anonymous and alone.

    As the film opens, the mother Keiko (Japanese television performer You) moves into a new apartment with Akira. Fearing eviction because of too much noise, the other children are packed in suitcases so the landlord does not find out they are living in the apartment. Since they are all from different fathers and do not attend school, the world does not even know that they exist. Keiko tells the children that they must adhere to strict rules: no loud talking and no going outside the apartment even to the balcony. As the children settle in, one day Akira finds a note from his mother together with some money telling him that she is going away for a while and asks him to look after the family.

    Using all natural lighting the film explores the details of the children's ups and downs living by themselves inside a cramped apartment for months. Much of the dialogue is improvised and we are not even aware of the children acting, just living moment by moment. Akira has to buy the groceries, handle the finances, and do all the things that an adult should be doing. "He is the only adult in that family," says Kore'eda. "The mother is much more immature than he is. But he's the adult only because that role has been forced onto him." The only time he is shown being a child is when he plays video games or baseball and has some adventures with some other boys in the neighborhood, but it is fleeting.

    At first playful, then gradually becoming passive and withdrawn, we watch in dismay as the conditions of their lives gradually deteriorate. The lights and water are turned off because of failure to pay the bills and the children have to wash in public fountains and light their rooms by candle. Though normally this would be very depressing, the children convey such feelings of joy, especially when they are finally let out to run around the park that our feelings of hopelessness are temporarily uplifted. Kore'eda said, "children are incredibly resilient, to just label these children's six months alone together as pathetic or tragic, you wouldn't get any closer to understanding either the children or what they experienced."

    Yet there is sadness, and the more difficult life becomes the more we hope that the children will be rescued, though we know that Akira has said that he would not report the situation to any authority for fear of breaking up the family. Nobody Knows has a running time of two hours and twenty-one minutes and requires patience, yet it's total effect is stunning. In the final sequence, the city of Tokyo is shown in silence as if to underscore the emotional disconnection of the modern city where people live in close proximity but nobody knows and nobody cares.

    GRADE: A
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

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  3. #3
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    My take

    Koreeda's Nobody Knows (2004)

    A world of abandoned children

    Review by Chris Knipp

    Nobody Knows is painful to watch. It's a story you won't shake off, depicting the most defenseless of humans -- four young children, the oldest only twelve -- trapped in growing poverty and abandonment. It's a process-narrative of devolution that makes you feel helpless and angry and sad. It's saved from mawkishness by the natural energy of the children playing the roles of the four kids. And if it survives, its not because of its treatment of a social issue so much as for its evocation of the precise details of childhood.

    There are two main subjects here. One is criminal neglect: the story is loosely based on events that happened in Tokyo in 1988. The other is the private, often secret, lives of children. Koreeda began as a documentary filmmaker and this seems to have given him exceptional skill in working with people and capturing their natural reactions. The winning, tragic children in Nobody Knows, four half-siblings with different fathers and the same childish, selfish mother, never seem to be acting and often no doubt aren't. Nonetheless the subtlety of expression in the delicate, mobile, beautiful face of the older boy, young YŻya Yagira, was such that it won him the Best Actor award at Cannes last year.

    Also important is Koreeda's gift for detail, his meditative examinations of fingernails, feet, a toy piano, video games, pieces of paper, objects strewn around a room, the hundreds of little soft drink bottles that are everywhere in Japan, plants, dirt, all the small things children see because they're closer to the ground. And the things they accept because they're defenseless and innocent, but also incredibly adaptable.

    Akira, who's only twelve and whose voice changed during year spent making the movie, is in charge. As their mother's absences become lengthier and the children finally seem to be abandoned for good, money runs out. Akira is captain of a sinking ship, a somber duty, but he and his little sisters and brother keep finding time to laugh and play.

    Koreeda's a passionately serious filmmaker: the two better known of his earlier fiction films deal with death and loss and here he considers as a given the worst of human carelessness and indifference both by society and the individual. Maborosi (1995) was a homage to Ozu but without Ozu's sense of social connectedness; it begins with an isolated couple in the city and chronicles a young widow's second marriage in the country through a slow pastiche of observed daily scenes where event and even dialogue are minimal concerns. The content of Maborosi is too thin, but the images and color are exquisite and the sequences of natural, unrehearsed-looking scenes achieve an impressively rich, beautiful, zen-like calm. After Life (1998) uses actual recollections of older people talking to the camera to build up a fantasy about dead souls held temporarily in a bureaucratic pre-Heaven limbo being asked to choose a single favorite memory to take with them into eternity: the effect is perplexing, thought-provoking, charming, and with great economy of means, cinematic.

    Nobody Knows isnít as brilliant or resolved as After Life or as exquisitely visual as Maborosi, but for all its rambling excessive length it delivers a quantity of undigested patient misery and joy that will evoke such noble antecedents from the classic world of cinematic humanism as Clťment's Forbidden Games, De Sica's Bicycle Thief, and the homeless father and son living on garbage in Kurosawa's Do-des-ka-den.

    What's new here though is a sense of the encompassing otherness of big modern cities and the stoicism and resiliency of childhood (and perhaps also of the Japanese personality). Keiko, the childish, weak, spoiled mother (played effectively -- we instantly hate her -- by You, who's some sort of pop star in Japan), sneaks three of her four children into the new apartment and tells them they can't go out, can't show themselves even on the balcony. (In the real event, this was largely because they were illegitimate and had no papers, but here the explanation is that their noise may get them evicted.) Only Akira can leave, and she won't let him or the others go to school. They're prisoners of their urban anonymity and of an impersonal contemporary society.

    As in Andrew Berkin's Cement Garden, the children also pretend everything's okay to escape the cruelty of the social welfare system. We watch agonizingly -- and many writers say the movie's somewhat too long; it does feel thus especially during the first hour -- but this time Koreeda's world is more direct and specific than before and there's plenty of talk. The children chatter among themselves. Eventually they go out and mix a bit by day with other children. Akira even talks to himself; he has to, because there's no adult coaching him so he must impersonate an elder advisor.

    Whatever its roughness and excess, Nobody Knows is intense and powerful filmmaking. Koreeda has put his whole heart and soul into this movie and with it achieved a memorable viewing experience. Nor will you forget the kids, especially the beautiful boy, YŻya Yagira, who may be growing inch by inch into a star even as we speak.

    Posted at my website here http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?t=397
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-06-2005 at 02:43 PM.

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    Be sure and see the forthcoming Film Comment feature on Kore-eda by Chuck Stephens in the Mar/Apr issue (Dustin Hoffman cover story).
    P

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    Re: My take

    Excellent review. Made me feel as if I was revisiting the film once again.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

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    Thanks. I was glad to have just seen Maborosi and After Life to prepare. Hitherto Kore-eda was another gap in my lacuna-ridden film knowledge. Will look for the Film Comment piece, thanks, pmw.

  7. #7
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    Originally posted by pmw
    Be sure and see the forthcoming Film Comment feature on Kore-eda by Chuck Stephens in the Mar/Apr issue (Dustin Hoffman cover story).
    P
    I can't wait to read this one. Chuck Stephens is a true authority when it comes to East-Asian cinema. He is also the reason why some of great Thai films have made it to the West recently...with English subtitles.

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    Quote arsaib4,"Yeah, I know. I missed it the last time I went back to the city. I'm going again in a couple of weeks for the "French Rendezvous" so hopefully I'll get the chance. What did you think of it? You can post your thoughts here too.


    Actually, I have watched the movie quite some time ago at the Mill Valley Film Festival.
    http://www.mvff.com/

    I have also posted my 1 cent worth on the OLD foreignfilms.com,
    so my comments and reviews are now gone ... sigh

    Anyway, since you have asked about my opinions, I am most glad to share ...
    As I concur with most of the reviews above, I will just highlight a FEW that might be different ...

    (1) I think the director has made a number of real good decisions:

    -- choose YOU (a popular actress) as the mother so that the audience will find it difficult to hate her totally ... maybe a lot of people who are quick to accuse others will also realize that at times, many of us are guilty. In our search for happiness, have we committed grave mistakes?

    -- it is part acting and part real life by the children.
    The director tries to let the kids "live their daily life" and meanwhile successfully captures really good scenes ...
    He also tries to incorporate a lot of subtleties which bring the message across ...
    e.g., the gal insisting on wearing the "noisy" slippers
    e.g., the eldest kid waiting in the snow for the sharp fall in price ...

    -- the director also films across the entire year so as to really capture the kids growing ...
    e.g., near the end, the gal could not fit into the luggage anymore (in contrast to the beginning)
    e.g., the deepening voice of the eldest kid etc
    ;)


    (2) The story is very powerful by itself. However, I am not sure if the director's modified ending is better or the real "ending" is harsher ...

    * MAJOR SPOILER *

    -- in reality, the 2 young kids were dead! The gal did not die of accident (i.e., falling off a chair). The gal was "abused/killed" by the elder kid's friends when he brought them home to play. If this were depicted, I actually felt that the audience would have more mixed emotions about the eldest kid and his friends (as opposed to the now simple liking and all pity for the elder kid). Noteworthy, I am NOT suggesting the eldest kid is guilty or what, but it is a chain of events ... he bringing his friends home ... his sister ate the noodles brought by them ... they got mad and abused/killed her ... the eldest may or may not have rendered help (I am not sure) ... but by being MORE faithful to the actual events ... it can be more thought provoking ...


    that's abt it ...

  9. #9
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    Originally posted by hengcs

    (1) I think the director has made a number of real good decisions:

    -- choose YOU (a popular actress) as the mother so that the audience will find it difficult to hate her totally ... maybe a lot of people who are quick to accuse others will also realize that at times, many of us are guilty. In our search for happiness, have we committed grave mistakes?

    Interesting idea. I did not really know how popular she was, though I noted she was a "sort of pop star."

    Originally posted by hengcs
    -- it is part acting and part real life by the children.
    The director tries to let the kids "live their daily life" and meanwhile successfully captures really good scenes ...
    I meant to say this in commenting on Koreeda's beginnings with documentary but may not have made myself clear.

    He also tries to incorporate a lot of subtleties which bring the message across ...
    e.g., the gal insisting on wearing the "noisy" slippers
    e.g., the eldest kid waiting in the snow for the sharp fall in price ...

    -- the director also films across the entire year so as to really capture the kids growing ...
    e.g., near the end, the gal could not fit into the luggage anymore (in contrast to the beginning)
    e.g., the deepening voice of the eldest kid etc

    Yes!
    Did not know your "MAJOR SPOILER," but a Japanese contributor to IMDb Comments showed the actual case was much more grim.


    Originally posted by hengcs
    (2) The story is very powerful by itself. However, I am not sure if the director's modified ending is better or the real "ending" is harsher ...


    How do we know this about the noodles, etc.? I.e., how do you know? Can you refer us to the source?

    On this general topic, I have thought about it too. I think Koreeda is concerned to focus a bit more on the positive aspects of childhood, and not repel the audience too much, in "softening" the events depicted. I do not think making the film more realistic, closer to the actual events, would be an improvement. By his alterations Koreeda enlarges the scope of the film.

    Liked your sharp specific observations as usual and wish I'd had all this before I wrote about the movie.

  10. #10
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    Just thought I would bump this thread back up to the top as I just saw Nobody Knows. Howard and Chris say it better than I can. See it if you can! Looks liek koreeda has a new film out in Japan "Hana yori mo naho," a samurai film of some sort... hope to know more about this at some point.
    P

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