Tuesday, 31 May 2011


Nobody Knows [Review]

Opinion: A-

Poignant amidst a beautiful sense of calmness, Nobody Knows is a powerful film by the impressive Kore-eda Hirokazu, which is stagnant yet moving as it adopts a documentary stance via observing the characters negotiating the unfavourable situation they find themselves stuck within. Great synergy from the non-professional child cast that also edged one of their own, Yûya Yagira, to go on and win the Best Actor Award at Cannes 2004.

Four siblings live happily with their mother in a small apartment in Tokyo. The children all have different fathers. They have never been to school. The very existence of three of them has been hidden from the landlord. One day, the mother leaves behind a little money and a note, asking her 12-year-old boy to look after the others. And so begins the children’s odyssey, a journey nobody knows.

Though engulfed by the cruel fate of abandonment, the four children do their best to survive in their own little word, devising and following their own set of rules. When they are forced to engage with the world outside their cocooned universe, the fragile balance that has sustained them collapses. Their innocent longing for their mother, their wart fascination toward the outside world, their anxiety over their increasingly desperate situation, their inarticulate cries, their kindness to each other, their determination to survive on wits and courage.

It begins with some form of unsettling bliss that gradually got me convinced that it's really more of a facade that keeps the family together by masking the underlying problems - the switch of roles. Akira (Yûya Yagira), the eldest of the four siblings, is really the household chief around while his mom Keiko (You) is really a child at heart.

Merely keeping everybody together with her disturbing bubbly demeanour and what little bread she brings home as the supposed breadwinner, her heart selfishly yearns for a separate life with her new boyfriend with absolutely no room for her four children. There is this scene where she confronts Akira with a question "Is it wrong to want to be happy?".

This silences Akira into gathering a rightful point of thought, given his tender age.

Yet the four siblings stick together with the surprising maturity and responsibility sported by the 12 year old Akira, despite all four of them with different fathers. That's childhood for most of you: Pure innocence with a massive heart of gold that begets kindness and not a single existence of evil.

But there's the woe of money. Isn't money the root of all evils?

Besides dealing with loneliness when Keiko left them for good, Akira finds the burden heightening with each passing day. He simply cannot slow down or stop time and the daily cashflow out. There is no income as he's only 12 (the minimum work age is 16).

Decisions, decisions.

It is exactly the essence of the film, Kore-eda takes up an observational vantage point and shows how each of them deal with issues and the decisions that they finally make. This is a heavy responsibility handed down (or should I say, dumped) to Akira where great responsibilities come great woes. Besides making simple cost-cutting plans and keeping a neat account book, there comes those of morality and the right and wrong judgmental calls (should he steal or continue sourcing for cash?).

This is a great display of how childhood thrives in the society of adulthood.

And through that, they grow up and mature.

The second half leans slightly towards a melodramatic plot where they enter into pitiful plights, but Kore-eda masterfully avoids running emotions and instead maintains his focus on the characters. Especially that of Akira.

This is evident when certain decisions that Akira makes may lead you into confusion and disagreement while at times you find yourself applauding them. Kore-eda doesn't try to explain them, but wants you to step into his shoes and think it through for yourself. After all, this is based upon a tragic true life story that took place back in 1988. It is so easy to sway the audience into tense emotions, but the focus skillfully remains upon the child characters.

Kore-eda likes us to watch the children, learn about their life stories, keep them company and eventually learning the true beauty that the film instills within us through their screen presence. Childhood may be eventually lost over time, but it is exactly the memories and lessons we learn from it that keeps us from deviating into the wrong territory in life. Take a look at Keiko, a matured body with a childless mind.

There lies a difference between growing up and maturing. Akira matured, Keiko grew up.

A great piece of cinema that ought to be watched at all cost.


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