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Nobody knows

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Japan| 2004. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 141 min.


Loosely based on a real-life event known in Japan as the ‘Affair of the Four Abandoned Children of Nishi-Sugamo,’ Hirokazu Kore-eda’s beautiful ‘Nobody Knows’ tells the story of four children left to fend for themselves in a small Tokyo apartment when their mother abandons them. The film continues the memory-obsessed themes of the director’s Maborosi and After Life, anchored by a physically unsettling and emotionally complex performance by Yagira Yuya, for which the 14-year-old actor rightfully won a Best Actor prize at Cannes ’04.
Not long after his family moves into their new Tokyo apartment, the prepubescent Akira (Yûya Yagira) is already cooking for his brothers and sisters while his mother ostensibly tends to a new lover. From his culinary expertise to his tender, father-like relationship to his siblings, it’s clear that Akira has been thrust into this position before. Similarly, the audience gleans the length of the time these children have been left alone when Akira’s sister Kyoko (Kitaura Ayu) notes that her brother’s voice sounds different. By film’s end, Akira is no longer cooking beef stew for his siblings, and in one of the film’s more casually devastating sequences, his younger brother Shigeru (Kimura Hiei) is seen chewing on a scrap of paper. It’s obvious how far they’ve fallen, and though they do not have any money (or electricity, or water), they somehow manage to create happy memories. This point is at the heart of film, which should not be seen as a condemnation of the society that neglects these children (because the children deliberately hide from the world, they’re not exactly ‘seen’) but a meditation on the solace and beauty of familial togetherness.

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