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Simply yet impressively filmed story based on a real-life drama
Davor_Blazevic_195923 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Acclaimed movie Dare mo shiranai (Nobody Knows, 2004) and related featurettes on the DVD from my Tokyo acquisition earlier this year, easily proved to be well worthy of my prolonged attention.

Though slow-moving and long (almost 2.5 hours), one never gets bored watching four kids (in the movie of the age of 4, 6, 10 and 12 years) trying to survive on their own. Kids are kawaii (cute) and their performances touching, while bringing to life a bittersweet story of abandoned children. Trying to avoid attention from authorities and subsequent institutionalisation or imposed guardianship, inevitably leading to their separation, they are concealing the fact from their landlords and neighbours, continuing to live alone and thus staying together, sadly, with an almost unsurprisingly tragic outcome.

Indeed a powerful story, based on real events. Unfortunately, as found on the free on-line encyclopedia page, actual events, taking place in 1988 in Tokyo's Toshima-ku (ward), thoroughly described in "The affair of the four abandoned children of Sugamo" depiction of the incident, have been even far more gruesome. Well deserved rating 9 out of 10.
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Children can not choose their parents
shi61211 September 2004
"Children can not choose their parents" This was what came into my mind after I saw this movie.

This movie is based on actual incident happened in 1988. It was much more miserable than the movie. A woman was living with a man. She thought he had filed the marriage notification. When their son was born, the man said he had filed the birth notification. One day he left her to live with another woman. When the boy reached the primary school age, she knew neither the marriage notification nor the birth notification were filed. Facing this situation, she decided to hide her children from the society. (According to another source, the mother told the police that she thought the birth notification of a bastard child would not be accepted.)

She had met several men and had 5 children, two boys and three girls, who were not registered and hidden from other people. When the second boy died of sick, she hid the corps in the closet. While she works in a department store, the eldest son took care of three sisters. When the eldest son was 14, she went out to live with her new man, who was 16 years older than her. She gave the eldest son her address. When the children were protected by the police half a year later, a girl was dead, and the two were debilitated, as they were confined in a room and poorly fed. The girls were 3 and 2 y/o and still used diapers, but they were changed only once every day. It is reported that the eldest boy blamed himself for not being able to take good care of his sisters, instead of blaming his mother...

Compared to the real story, the movie is less miserable. In the movie, even the little boy and girl look normal and pretty, but in the real story they were very poorly developed. But it was still more than enough to surprise me. What a mother! In a conversation with the eldest boy, she says "May I not become happy?" She acts on this thought, without thinking of the same right about her children. Her childish lisping talk describes her immaturity. And of course, men were more guilty. Sadly, children can not choose their parents.

Every child acted amazingly well, very natural. Particularly, the eyes of the eldest boy, Akira, are very impressive. The eyes tell many things from their miserable life.
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A compelling portrait of the world of abandoned children
Chris Knipp6 March 2005
"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 Yûya 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 ten 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" isn't 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 Clément'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 adviser.

Whatever its roughness and excess, "Nobody Knows" is intense and powerful film-making. Koreeda has put his whole heart and soul into this movie and with it achieves an experience you can't shrug off. Nor will you forget the kids, especially the beautiful boy, Yûya Yagira, who may be growing inch by inch into a star even as we speak.
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A deeply moving film
YNOT_at_the_Movies16 February 2005
Today I went to the pre-screening of "Nobody Knows," a stunningly brilliant film by director Hirokazu Koreeda who also directed the philosophical "After Life."

What if I were a 12 years old boy and left alone to take care of two younger sisters and one younger brother in a big city like Tokyo, and I have to hide them in the apartment so nobody knows about them? That's what I have been thinking when I was watching this film and how the film gets my sympathy for these children. It allows me to experience the ordeal through these children's eyes and the transcending performance by Yuya Yagira, who is the youngest actor ever won the best actor award in the history of Cannes Film Festival.

Director Koreeda allows the camera to take the time to shoot and he never rushes from one scene to the next. He let me observe, let me feel, let me be as close to these children as I possibly can, until I can no longer take it and until I am drowned by the frustration and sadness. I become as helpless as those children, because I simply can not resist the urge to help them. That makes me cry. Through out the film, Koreeda masterfully positioned his lenses to ordinary objects around these children, such as simply a finger, a hand, a stain, a foot, or four empty glasses. But through these zoomed in images, I have no trouble to "see" and "feel" what's going on in the whole picture. And it tells the story in a more profound fashion and more personal way, a story you will never forget, along with those images, sometimes, even the music.

The 12 years old boy is played by Yuya Yagira, who has a haircut like the Japanese animation character. Yagira's outstanding performance is original and remarkable, and simply unforgettable. Through him, you see a premature 12 years old boy who is acting as an adult to take care the other kids, meanwhile, he is still a 12 years old kid, who will just like other kids around his age. That's make this movie can be so hard to watch sometimes, because no matter how hard your heart is, it will be softened by watching his struggle to survive. It's hard to leave this movie with dry eyes.

There is no doubt in my mind that this is the best film I have seen this year.
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a film with immense humanity
trngo27 March 2005
It has been a while since I saw a film with this much humanity. That is, until I saw acclaimed Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda's latest, Nobody Knows, about a quartet of siblings left to fend for themselves.

It's heartbreaking, just thinking about some of these random moments subtly displayed on screen. The look on an adolescent girl's face when her mom paints her nails. A little boy making silly faces in the mirror. A little girl's scribbling of stick people on a gas bill that has been months overdue... I can go on.

I wish I can put into words, or convey in some sort of way, the flowing of rampant emotions experienced when I saw these images: about how much it hit so close to home, how much it reminded me of my own family. But I can't. I guess it simply cannot be articulated in such a concise, simplified manner.

You'll just have to see it for yourself.
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A beautiful movie, one of the best in 2004...
catherine_lee_green3 January 2005
This film is beautiful in its is at times sweet, warm, funny and always is essentially about four children surviving on their own after their mother leaves them in search of her own happiness....

The show seemingly lacks any action or any exciting moments, but i was totally absorbed during the two plus hours of the film...this is largely because of the superb performances of the adorable children, who were all really natural and likable. You just feel for them and wonder at the callousness of their mother and respective fathers. The dialogue is simple yet meaningful and through the day-to-day unraveling of the plot, one sees the contrast between the courage, maturity and innocence of children, and the selfishness and childishness of adults. The realist, documentary style of filming allows viewers to see things from the eye of the children...

a great film that will make u feel rather depressed at the end of it...not for those who do not like slowly-paced films with not much action.
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Absolutely Astounding!
s_cadzow15 April 2006
There are very few films I have seen that had the power to affect me as deeply as Nobody Knows. As highly as I recommend it, I must also forewarn, that this film has power, some very serious power. To call Hirokazu Koreeda's Nobody Knows anything less than a masterpiece would be an insult to the story it tells. The craftsmanship we witness here, from the masterful direction to the outstanding performances that the children were able to commit to, are all something of incredible proportions.

Nobody Knows, which is a true story, tells of four siblings, ages 5-12, from different fathers, who live in a small apartment in Tokyo. At first, they live in the apartment with their childish Mother who is hardly ever home. With the exception of the oldest, Akira, the mother snuck the children in to keep the rent lower and prohibits them from ever leaving the apartment, even the veranda, for fear of them being seen. The children do not go to school. As they look after each other, all they do is patiently and affectionately wait for their mother to come home.

As the story progresses, the children wake up one morning to some money on the kitchen table with a note from their mother saying that she'll be home in a month. As Akira steps up and takes charge of the apartment, the bills, and his siblings, the children still hold hope that mother will be home soon. And then, Nobody Knows hits you like a truck and goes right through you. Complete Abandonment. The smiles diminish and the childish affection for a mother that will never return is gone. Gone to play mother to another family, it is now entirely up to Akira, with money running out.

Koreeda's direction of the children is exceptional, as if the film was shot entirely candid. The camera-work is sincere, as if we were one of the children stuck in that apartment. There are no gimmicks here, no slide of hand, or post-production miracles. Nobody Knows is raw, and thrives in Koreeda's ability to capture the distinct personalities of all four siblings, their hopes, and those secretive moments where Koreeda directs the children not for the stories sake, but for the sake of the children being children.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Nobody Knows is the performances of the four children. All four children, who conjured phenomenal performances, were played by Japanese youths with no film backgrounds. After you see the film, it is likely that Koreeda preferred it this way, tapping into the honesty and energy that such youth had to offer. Their performances are so sincere and beautiful that on several occasions the tears will start to fall, the goose bumps will rise, and your heart will undoubtedly cry out to rescue these children, to grab them in your arms and set them free.

Without giving too much away, one of the most touching scenes to me, is on Yuki's birthday, the only thing she wants is to be able to go outside for a walk with her big brother Akira. So when the night comes, she puts on her little bear slippers, an ear to ear smile on her face, and with her hand in her brothers hand, they set her heart free for if not only a night.

Nobody Knows is a film that I will never let go of. This film impacted me so much and I found it so absolutely remarkable, that it hasn't left my mind since it's viewing. I almost feel that recommending this film just isn't enough, and all I can say is that I hope everyone gets the chance to enjoy this film for all that it is worth. As sure as it is to invoke emotion, it is as sure to please as a piece of cinema.
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Getting into the child's mind
harry_tk_yung25 October 2004
Warning: Spoilers

Like 99.99% (or some such number) of the audience, I am no child psychologist (or any sort of psychologist, for that matter), but it just occurs to me that we won't fully appreciate Nobody Knows unless we cleanse ourselves of our adult mentality and try to get into the child's mind. We do get some help, with the POV shots at low levels, as the kids do spend a lot of time on the floor in the apartment which is both their home and their prison.

Let me back up a little. A still relatively young mother, whose mental capacity is probably not that much more than that of a child, had four children with four different men. Renting an apartment together with her oldest, 12-year-old son, the only one of the four that she can reveal to the world at large, she smuggles the other three into this new 'home'. Leaving her children with no schooling at all, she goes away for weeks to pursue her own life, leaving Akira (Yagira Yuya) to look after his siblings. Her absence soon becomes perpetual, as the children can barely survive on the money she sends very occasionally.

Such then, is the 'story', if it can be called one. But then, it is a true story, and what we see is close to being a documentary. Director Hirokazu explains clearly with the opening credit, however, that while the events are true, the characters of the children are created for the film. By helping us get into the world of these children, Director Hirokazu makes the film less gloomy than the actual events, at least during the first half of it.

The two little ones are too young to worry about survival or truly comprehend sorrow. Shigeru (Kimura Hiei) is a little guy with insuppressible spirit and insatiable curiosity. Yuki (Shimuzu Momoko) is the most adorable little girl there is. In their child's world, they quietly accept being barely at the fringe of survival, such as having to wash in public fountains when water supply at the apartment has been cut off. What is most heartbreaking is watching Akiru's younger (slightly) sister Kyoko (Kitaura Ayu). While the little kids are 'smuggled' into the apartment in the luggage, Kyoko travels by herself in a train, to be met by Akiru at night. The first thing she asks her brother is the location of the washing machine, because washing is apparently the family duty assigned to her and she is worried that if the washing machine in out on the balcony, she will not be able to discharge her responsibility without being spotted by neighbors. Duty-conscious and extremely good-natured, her dispositions are almost angelic. But she also has all the dreams of a pre-adolescent girl. She tries on her mother's nail polish and, idling at the small toy piano, dreams of the day when she will have her own piano. And yet, at the very first family (that is, the four kids') financial trouble, she contributes all the money she's been saving for that very purpose.

It's 14-year-old Yagira Yuya, playing 12-year-old Akira, that won the best actors award at Cannes, beating strong contenders in Hong Kong's 2046 and Korea's Old Boy. Akira is a pre-adolescent boy growing towards adolescence under the enormous burden of looking after the family in a continuously deteriorating financial situation. He hides a lot within himself as he toughs his way through vicissitudes, but the child in him is not totally lost. He lets go at one point, allowing himself to be indulged in video games and baseball. His tantalizing adolescent yearning is brought out in an unusual friendship with rebellious rich schoolgirl Saki (Kan Hanae) who later becomes part of the 'family'. The final trail is a tragic incident for which he must be blaming himself on his temporary absence. Such is the range of emotions that Yuya had to handle, and his Cannes award is well deserved.

The film starts not without light, happy moments, particularly as seen through the child's eye in the audience. As the situation gets from bad to worse, Director Hirokazu does not drag us through wails and screams, as a lesser one would. He doesn't even give that much dialogue. Through the two hours of the film he simply bleeds our hearts with images of these children whom we have come to really care for, and goes on to bleed them some more.
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every little details we neglected
teekc-17 May 2005
If your local art theater plays it, go watch it. Find it in DVD store if you can. Rent it through your local mega movie renting store if you have to. Everyone has to watch this movie.

As a highly urbanized country, Japan is subjected to constant social problem, more so than other developed country. Hence, often you will have your Japanese movies that reminds us these problems, Tokyo Godfather, Fireworks, etc.

Nobody Knows is one of them from another angle.

Its director likes to use close up on little details like finger nails, shoes, t-shirt collar to tell the audience what kind of situation it is for the victims in the movie. Often we neglect these little details; often we neglect the unfortunate people around us.

Once in a while we have a world disaster, we all jumped in, we all gave our helping hands, we all praised greatly how much help we gave on TV. Comparing and contrast the figures of aids given with other countries, even. Little things, little unfortunate things happened around us, everyday, everywhere, they are all nicely tucked under our lavish mat and those story never told, those needed aid never arrived. Because they have no news value or because helping a few people doesn't gain enough prestige?

Nobody knows, as the title suggest, We never aware of these problems, by our own choice or not. The movie has an unusual slow pace. There is no climax, everything just get worse. Just the those misfortune people nobody knows, their life are not full of excitement, everyday is another to get by, nothing to wish for, nothing to hope for. Nobody Knows depicts the days of these unsounded misfortune. You could have seen the unfortunate events to come. You would have wished they would not come. One by one they came.

The brilliant part, Nobody Knows lets its audiences decide the ending.
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Kore-eda does it again. A wonderful, detailed, intense, coming of age story.
photonate8 September 2004
This film was very well received at the latest Telluride Film Festival where I saw it. Based on a true incident it is the story of 4 children,each a child by a different father, abandoned by their mother, and trying to survive in modern Japan on their own. The film is paced wonderfully slow, allowing the viewer to focus on small details that overlay other details. It does not drag at all and has moments of humor mixed with pathos.

The oldest, a son of about 13 or 14, incredibly acted, becomes the parent. He is in transition from becoming the responsible one of the family and a typical kid, but one with real values.

There are moments where a box of tissues are in order. The film ends in a moment of hope mixed with a real desire to know what ultimately happened to them all.
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one of the most remarkable films I've ever seen
raytracer886 February 2006
I feel so strongly about this film I don't know if I can even talk about it. I feel as though it is almost another kind of film-making entirely, than we've been used to. If anyone wants to correct me and point me to films that this is in a tradition of, please do. One of the most profound things in the film for me was the manner in which it was made, which contained such great honesty and respect for its characters and seems to have been told truly from a child perspective - not an adult concept of a child's perspective (big difference). Sorry for the hyperbole ... this is the only film I've felt moved to comment on here. A must-see.
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Fight for Survival
claudio_carvalho18 December 2007
In Tokyo, the reckless single mother Keiko (You) moves to a small apartment with her twelve years old son Akira Fukushima (Yûya Yagira) and hidden in the luggage, his siblings Kyoko (Ayu Kitaura), Shigeru (Hiei Kimura) and Yuki (Momoko Shimizu). The children have different fathers and do not have schooling, but they have a happy life with their mother. When Keiko finds a new boyfriend, she leaves the children alone, giving some money to Akira and assigning him to take care of his siblings. When the money finishes, Akira manages to find means to survive with the youngsters without power supply, gas or water at home, and with the landlord asking for the rental.

"Dare mo Shiranai" is a sensitive movie based on a true and very sad story. The performances of the children are amazing, highlighting the look of Yûya Yagira, and the drama is developed in a slow, but suitable pace. The direction is effective and the music score is absolutely adequate to the film. However, living in Rio de Janeiro, where we see homeless children begging on the streets everywhere, the terrible situation of Akira and his siblings does not impress the way it certainly does in First World countries. The abandoned children of the film have an apartment to live and food to eat, what does not happen in Third World countries, where famine children live on the streets in a sadder and unacceptable reality. The open conclusion is a little disappointing, since it does not bring any message of hope or lack of hope to the poor children. It seems that life goes on only. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "Ninguém Pode Saber" ("Nobody Can Know")
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Mommie Dearest
jotix10017 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
"Nobody Knows", directed by Hirozaku Koreeda, is a compelling film that will grab the viewer's attention from the start. The film, based on a real incident in Japan is one of the saddest accounts in memory about children's abuse by uncaring parents.

If you haven't seen the movie, maybe you would like to stop reading.

When we first meet this family, Keiko, the mother, and Akira, are seen bringing their things to the tiny apartment they have rented. Little by little we see two young children emerge from two huge suitcases, at the risk of suffocating, and another one that is waiting at a train station. This mother and the four children seem to be happy being together. Since the lease is for only two persons, the other kids must be quiet, as they don't want to bring undue attention from the landlord and his wife, who also live in the complex.

We realize Keiko's love for her children comes second to her life as a woman of loose morals; she may be a prostitute, although it's left to the viewer's imagination what she does after she leaves the apartment. Akira, being the oldest, is in charge of the other three. It becomes clear these four children are the product of different fathers. Yet, all four function as though they have the same set of parents.

Keiko, who appears to be just another kid, thinks nothing in leaving these four to fend for themselves, while she is going out of town with her present beau. Keiko is the epitome of cruelty. How can a mother even dream of abandoning these young kids and expect Akira to assume full responsibility for the situation?

Akira, is a study of maturity beyond belief. Only in that type of society, someone like this boy can exist. Akira is seen in his daily routine going to the store and cook for the siblings and the mother, while she's still around. Akira realizes he has a responsibility, as he never resorts to stealing, even when he becomes friendly with some bad kids from his area. Akira realizes he is the head of the household and must protect those that have been placed under his care, something the real mother has neglected to do.

The film is a document about children's abuse and cruelty. Mr. Koreeda has been blessed with a cast that do miracles for him. Yuya Yagira, does an incredible job as Akira. All the children appear to be non professionals, but under the guidance of the director, they make us believe they are the abandoned children living alone and eking out a living for themselves.
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Nasal Whisper
frankgaipa12 March 2005
No doubt there are others I haven't heard of, but for me Dare mo shiranai forms the latest entry in a trilogy of Japanese films based on true incidents involving abusive parents: Oshima's 1969 Shonen (Boy), Nomura's 1978 Kichiku (The Demon) are the others. Shonen I saw long ago and isn't available. Kichiku I watched barely two weeks ago. Nomura's camera tends to accuse, while Oshima's, if I recall, just watches, miming cinema vérité. Kore-eda, like Oshima, tends -- I mean this literally not pejoratively -- to voyeurism.

Knowing the story too well already from difficult-to-dodge early reviews and distributor publicity, I couldn't help seeing as ironic the early scenes in which the children's mother Keiko is still a factor. Her voice an almost cute nasal whisper, something like that of a child boisterously ignoring a cold (compare the whisper-singing actress in Swallowtail Butterfly and Picnic or I don't know which Karie Kahimi cut (but my favorites are all on Larmes de Crocodile)), she comes across as a really great mother. The family may be on the outs, sneaking, two or three gone fetal inside suitcases, into a one-child apartment, but it's a family of five, not four victims and a demon. The "unpacking" of the children looks clever, magical. It's fairytale stuff. So is the chatter, the family life, those first nights especially, in the new apartment. Keiko's one of them and their mother in charge of them, all at once. They may complain but they clearly admire something in her, and obey her to the letter. They've learned from her a self-reliance that so astounds throughout the film, that its slow breakdown is that much more shattering. Not just their compliance, but the skill with which they do without her during her increasingly long absences testify to what she's done for and with them. How many children you know could survive this well for this long in these circumstances?

Or is what I'm seeing just the actress You's skill with the nonprofessional child actors? I think probably it's both, You and Keiko, and that Kore-eda knew and used this.

There's going to be too much written here about this film (and on the IMDb message board look for some really knowledgeable comments by YukoK that make my top of the head rambling near worthless by comparison). I try never to repeat or preempt others' contributions, but wondered how many would register Keiko's mother-skills.

Kore-eda doesn't shy from deconstructing the closest thing he has here to a protagonist, eldest son Akira. After Keiko's whisper-voice goes slowly sinister and collapses finally into written notes, we watch his will and integrity falter even as he attracts the sympathy of the shop girl and cast-out Saki. I don't think there's a deliberately sentimental shot in the entire film. The achingly symbolic garden that mimics Akira's decline and the nighttime trek to the burial site may come closest, but both are forgivable and may have been unavoidable. If you haven't already seen Nobody Knows, prepare yourself for a fine ten-minute cry.

See my comment at Distance (2001) for a snippet of Kore-eda apologetic in person.
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Abandoned Children In A World Run By Adults
Chrysanthepop13 December 2008
Hirokazu Koreeda's 'Dare Mo Shiranai' tells the heartbreaking story of four abandoned young siblings who struggle to survive in an apartment. The apartment was restricted to two people (where no little children were allowed). It is known that Akira and his mother were the only tenants thus the three other children are living in secret (and are not allowed to leave the apartment or make any noise in case the neighbours got suspicious). While Akira is the only one allowed to leave the apartment, he is forbidden to go to school. After their self-centred mother's long term departure due to her 'work', 12-year-old Akira, the eldest one, serves as a parent striving to provide food for his brother and sisters but he too is only a child and how will he, in a world run by adults, support his siblings?

The director tells this unique story in a very heartfelt, sensitive way. 'Dare Mo Shiranai' is based on a true event (which was far more harrowing) but I can see that he might have been inspired by movies like 'Hotaru No Haka' and perhaps William Golding's 'Lord of the Flies'. With the minimal use of music, special effects the film has an unpolished look which makes the characters' sense of isolation and despair all the more authentic to the viewer. The whimsical background score is cleverly used and it brings a poetic feel. The child actors are excellent. It is Yûya Yagira who confidently carries the film but each one of these kids deliver very natural performances. It's hard to tell whether they were acting. Moreover because the film is sort of shot in documentary format it is easy to forget that one is watching a film. I wonder how the director got the kids to act so restrained.

'Dare Mo Shiranai' is a beautiful film that depicts the importance of a responsible adult figure in children's lives but it also demonstrates that children too are strong even though inexperienced. Yet, no matter what, the importance of a significant nurturing adult is crucial for a child's development.
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Survival: Abandoned Children Bonding in the Streets of Tokyo
gradyharp16 September 2005
'Dare mo shiranai' (NOBODY KNOWS) is a gleaming little film by writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda that offers a version of a true story so simply and eloquently that by the end of the film the audience is powerfully moved - without gimmicks, without imitation emotional devices, without major stars. It just simply works. Though the film is long at 2 1/2 hours the journey is well worth it and indeed the prolonged length seems necessary to convey the plight of these touching children's plight.

The film opens (during the titles) on public transportation where a youthful mother Keiko (the pop star You) and her young son Akira (Yûya Yagira) sit guarding an ugly pink suitcase and other bags. Keira and Keiko have rented a poor little apartment promising the landlord that Keiko will make no noise. Once inside their new home the ugly bags are open and two additional children emerge and a trip to the bus station adds yet a third child! Thus, 'unknown' to the landlord, the apartment contains a family of five! Soon Keiko leaves on a trip to 'make money', leaving some cash with Akira who is placed in charge of his brother and sisters. Of course, Keiko doesn't return except for one brief visit months later, and leaving the children to fend for themselves.

Akira manages to make friends outside, gaining food and money for good deeds and good will, keeping his little 'family' afloat. Gradually Akira realizes that Keiko will never return and through his friendship with a young girl still manages to eek out an existence: the manner in which he keeps his family happy is food for the soul! But despite his constant good intentions to maintain a life for his family, one of his sisters dies and he and his girl friend bury her where she can 'watch the airplanes'. And life goes on. There is no ending depicted, just continuum.

With the subtlest technique Koreeda creates a story so real that it pulsates. The child actors (especially Yûya Yagira) are so natural and fine that they grab our hearts tenaciously. The only music in this film is a few notes form a toy piano and quiet harp music that enhances the feeling of isolation of the children. This is a film of rare beauty, one that could have been edited a bit, but even that criticism is overshadowed by the impact of Hirokazu Koreeda's overall achievement. Very Highly Recommended. Grady Harp
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Turning Rubble into Beauty
BobbyMotwani8 August 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I went to the cinema to watch Daremo Shiranai,and have just returned from my second viewing only days later.And frankly, I would gladly go a third time.The storyline is fairly simple: four half-siblings are gradually abandoned by their mother in a flat in Tokyo -they are pretty much left to fend for themselves in a world that is oblivious of their existence.The plot strikingly reminded me of Virginia Andrews' Flowers in the Attic,though as far as my rusty memory of that book goes,I thought the movie drew out in a more silent manner,what with its considerable length,unfortunately seems to make it 'too slow'(i.e. boring)for many.Daremo perhaps may not enjoy the commercial success of its contemporaries(both my attendances saw not more than five spectators in a large cinema-hall,the only one playing the movie amongst dozens of modern cinema-complexes strewn around town),but its creation clearly constitutes a labour of love by director Hirokazu Koreeda,a love which,as of any great artist,he does not compromise.

Keiko,mother of four children from different relationships,wins her children's trust through her winsome manner,while depriving them of a normal life of school and friends.Their imprisonment in the flat is compensated with bribes in the form of gifts after an especially long absence,and promises,particularly for the elder two,of a better future(she is currently 'in love' with a rich man who will provide a life of luxury for them all).But both Akira,twelve,and his half sister Kyoko, ten,cannot help doubting if they can rely on her.They want more than anything to trust her,but how can they when she leaves them and disappears for weeks on end,only to spring up again in as sprightly a manner as if she were returning from a day at work.

Akira,being the eldest,was the only one allowed to 'be seen'(he is her 'only son' as far as the landlord's awareness)and therefore the only one allowed outside the flat,being entrusted by Keiko with buying the groceries and preparing meals.Kyoko,in charge of the laundering, must sneak outside into the balcony to run the washing machine.The two youngest,Shigeru of about six and Yuki,four,are instructed not to make much noise so as not to attract the landlord's attention.

Weeks,and eventually months go by without any sign of their mother. Money gradually wanes,water and electricity are shut off due to non-payment,and the children slowly outwear their clothes.The decline in their living conditions is slow but steady,yet through it all we witness the beauty they manage to create in a progressively decaying environment.The room is saturated with junk,overshadowed only by Yuki's crayon drawings(her only pastime).When their home seems to reach a point of being almost uninhabitable,Akira pulls out his siblings' shoes from the closet,and with a smile full of anticipation the four of them step out together for the first time into the sunlight,enjoying the sense of freedom,mirthful as any child skipping to the park on a Sunday morning.And they bring back a part of that glorious outside to their flat in the form of seeds,which they plant in their balcony in empty pot-noodle containers.They effectively manage to create beauty in their own little world of abandonment,not only in the form of plants but also through the warmth of their spirits.

During the length of the movie the children speak more through looks than through words.Words often fail a child,and Koreda shows us the fruitless attempts of Akira and Kyoko trying to express their frustration or getting through to their mother with words,as she circumvents their precarious protests with the unfairness of fluent verbal diplomacy,but not once looking at them and allowing the guilt to reach her.The children,after all,are not unaware of a sense of abandonment by their mother,and in the case of Akira and Kyoko the feeling becomes more confounding as they try to come to terms with it.Kyoko's whisper 'she smells of alcohol' as she passes by her brother, as if seeking reassurance,but mostly her wistful expression,tells of her broken desire to believe in her mother's love.Her timid smile as her mother takes on the adventure of painting her daughter's nails, though only managing to slop the nail-polish untidily over her nails and onto parts of her fingertips in her current state of inebriation, is a heartbreaking moment that speaks of Kyoko's longing to believe that her mother does care.That confused smile brought me back to Francie in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as she tried to make sense of her father's drunkenness and broken promises,..."if a man spent all his time trying to be like that,then no matter what else he would be all right, wouldn't it?".Later on Kyoko drops the nail-polish bottle in a realization that that moment meant nothing more than just another of her mother's whims.So mostly Koreeda allows his camera to simply focus on the natural expression of the children, through looks and gestures,rather than try to pry from their lips emotions which they don't know how to translate into words.Even Akira's friendship with an older schoolgirl,Saki,who is relatively well-off but equally isolated from society,was founded on a simple and silent mutual acceptance of each other's existence rather than by meaningful dialogue.Saki becomes a part of their lives and they a part of hers,and her unhesitant and straightforward act of earning some money for them by going to a 'karaoke' with a man is a testimony of the deep value of friendship.

There are many beautifully poignant scenes in this movie,witnessed silently by Koreeda's unimposing camera,picking up little details of the children's innocent expression of life.As a friend of mine says, real life situations often don't lend themselves to pat solutions,and this movie doesn't intend to devise one.The last scene of four children walking away from the camera,to goodness knows what future,is charged with a mixed feeling of forlorn uncertainty and sorrow,but also with love,acceptance and optimism,all that's left when there are no pat solutions -and the will to make a garden out of the discards of their torn lives.After all,did the children ever have a different spirit?
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Extraordinary movie, but don't expect Walt Disney
Red-12517 April 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Dare mo shiranai (2004) (Nobody Knows) is an extraordinary film, written, produced, and directed by Hirokazu Koreeda.

The basic plot outline is relatively straightforward--four children are left alone for months in an apartment by their mother.

However, the actual film is far more complex. The three younger children aren't allowed out of the apartment. (The landlord will rent only to the mother and her older son, who is twelve. The other children have to be smuggled into the apartment, and are forced to remain inside so no one will know they're there.) To add to their problems, the children are also chronically short of money.

The burden of survival is placed on the shoulders of Akira, a pre-adolescent young man of extraordinary good will and intelligence. He has to do all the things a parent would do-- maintain the apartment, purchase and prepare food, pay the bills, etc. Naturally, a normal life is impossible for any of the children, but by sheer determination they muddle through somehow as the months pass and their mother doesn't return.

No one is overtly cruel to the children, and some people actively help them. However, as the title implies, nobody knows the true situation the children face, and, in fact, nobody tries very hard to find out.

Yûya Yagira as the older brother Akira is exceptional. All the children are superb actors. The mother, played by an actor named You, is outstanding as a woman who is still young and attractive, and in many ways is less mature than her son. She wishes the children no harm--she just doesn't understand why she can't live as a free and happy single woman. Caring for four young children just doesn't fit her life style.

There's an interesting contrast between the mother in this film and the mother in a French film (Viper in the Fist) I recently reviewed. The mother in Viper in the Fist is a horrible parent because she tries to control and mold every aspect of her children's lives. In Nobody Knows, the mother is equally horrible, but for just the opposite reason--she controls and molds nothing.

In a U.S. movie, the children would meet all the challenges, and cope collectively with each new problem. In life, things don't always work out in this neat and uplifting fashion. The story is heartwarming in its way, but remember that the film wasn't made by the Disney studios.
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Unflinching and Real
kasserine23 February 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This is a pretty amazing film. It is the story of four children who are ultimately abandoned by their mother soon after the fatherless family moves into an new apartment.

Nobody Knows does a deft job at portraying child abuse and abandonment. The mother clearly loves her children and also, clearly is incapable of taking care of them. She is more of a child herself then her own children. And this is what works so well in this film, it's subtlety. Nothing is forced on the viewer.

The mother disappears twice, the second time for good. In both instances, she says that she will be back and places the burdens of maintaining the family on her 12 year old son, Akira. Akira manages as well as he can keeping the family together. According to the bizarre rules set out by the mother, no child is allowed to go to school outside the apartment. After she leaves, Akira manages to adhere the family to these rules and manage the finances until the situation slowly unravels in the parent-less environment.

As a parental figure, Akira does he best until his own needs overwhelm him. He wants to go to school, have friends, play baseball and even develop crushes on girls. All these aspects of growing up are represented, and all of them are shown in Akira's world as unfulfilled desires. He develops some friends who quickly abandon him, since his child dominated household is "messy and stinky" as they put it, he gets to realize his love for baseball only when a playground team needs an extra. In each instance, Akira must return home to take care of his brothers and sisters who are slowly venturing away from the "rules" themselves.

As Akira runs out of money, the electricity and other utilities get shut off. Somewhat inexplicably, only once is the rent asked for by a landlord seemingly clueless that a cluttered apartment filled with unsupervised kids is not unusual.

By showing Akiras strength, the film illustrates how heroic even a child as young as 12 can be. It also shows how tragic a situation can end up when children are abandoned and left to take care of themselves.

Highly recommended.
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A film of deep compassion
howard.schumann28 February 2005
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.
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I have never seen better performances. Must see
Jordiuly20 September 2006
"Nobody knows" demonstrates the hardness and crudity of life. The film is as simple as disturbing; it leaves you dumbstruck with every scene. You shudder remembering that the film is based on real facts. "Nobody knows" shows the life of four siblings abandoned by their parents, and how the older one (who is only 12 years old) tries to take care of his brothers. Nobody knows why those children have to confront a wicked thing which they doesn't deserve; this wicked thing was already part of their lives when they were born. Even so, since the first minute, the film irradiates optimism: before their mother abandon them, the family seems a poor family but so happy in spite of; even the difficulties that the siblings have to go on, it seems that they will survive (it is as if there is not enough wickedness to hinder the passing of life). The movie is strongly reinforced by the actors' performances (really striking and outstanding), it is as if a hidden camera was filming their lives without they noticing it. The boy who play Akira won the Best Performance by an Actor award in the Cannes Festival, but the truth is that the four children deserve the award.
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Masterful! A gem of a movie!
jeffer_wrote28 April 2005
Who would have thought that a film acted in by mostly kids would be this great? While watching this film, I somehow forgot these kids are acting. They are so natural, so real, that I am willing even to think that this is a documentary.

The characterizations are great, ranging from a responsible older brother Akira torn between his obligations and his intense desire to be just a normal young boy to the quiet second child Kyoko who looks wistfully at other young women, her eyes conveying that longing to be 'just like her'.

Yagura Yuuya deserved his Best Actor award at Cannes. The film fell heavily on his 14-year-old shoulders, and he turned out a winning performance. This ranks at the top of my favorite films.
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Incredible poetry
aristofanis6 April 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Somewhere in the middle of this picture, I reconciled myself with the idea that I didn't need to anticipate any evolution on the plot since I was convinced that I was living a true experience! A story that can be shown in less than half an hour unfolds into a series of extraordinary cinema moments. Koreeda has zoomed with incredible detail into the child condition, so much that anyone can relate and recall childhood memories of his/her own even if they don't resemble at all with the film's story.

*SPOILER* Until the very end I expected a certain catharsis, something that never came. I was also left questioning: what is the role of the schoolgirl that joins the kids at the last stages of the film and what makes her mingle? Isn't she old enough to asses the problem and spread the word somewhere? But perhaps these problems are part of the film's strength and not weakness. The schoolgirl is an indicator that the four kids in question are not an isolated incident. She is the helpless society that just follows along. She is a victim of neglect as well despite her better standards of living. Neglect goes beyond social status. Her bonding with the four kids maybe keeps her silent as she becomes part of them. But even if she has communicated the problem to others, is there anyone who cares? Even if things get resolved at the end, even if the authorities intervene, and even if there is a slim possibility that these children have a better future, Koreeda insists that the problem remains. The film is not about answers but about questions. About contemporary urban realities and that's were the focus is on.

Favorite scene: Akira taking out his little sister and showing her the trains that pass by.

Wonderfully observant camera, superb acting, very good musical theme that is repeated throughout and great use of sounds. Poetic cinema that triggers the heart and the mind. 9/10
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Thought provoking film
suisho25 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this film last week, and I'm still thinking about it. Just the other night the image of the landlady with the cat in her arms standing in the doorway of the chaotic apartment the kids were living in and then just walking away came into my mind. Thinking of a pet store I visited in Japan that had gourmet treats and designer "clothes", and a special salon for their haircuts. Are pets treated better than children?

I wonder if Kore-eda was also making a critique of the young women who have been raised to be "kawaii"(cute) and child-like, and used to having their parents do and buy things for them. The result, like the mother in this film, is a mother who is unable to mature into a grown woman, and who feels incomplete without a man. She also put her own needs over her children's, which is extremely repugnant to most people, but imagine in Japanese society, where the concept of "gaman" has been so admired, how loathed and despised this mother would have been.

Interesting to read the actual events as well. I wonder if the film had presented the mother as having been lied to and abandoned with a small baby by her first partner would that have changed the audience perception of her culpability? I felt she was a victim as well--even w/out knowing any details, I just felt no one who had a happy upbringing would abandon their children like that.

I also felt the kids were too good to be true at the beginning, not imagining that kids would be able to live so tidily and manage all the adult affairs with no one to guide them. However, perhaps that was an effective way to show the decline as time went on.

Now I am still left with the lingering feeling...what happened to them? Part of the problem was that the solution meant they would be separated from each other. What happens to these kids in Japan? Where family and koseki is so important, how do they get along in society?

Anyway, an excellent film--the child actors were amazing.
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Frame of reference
diand_10 February 2005
Hirokazu Kore-eda has always had a distinctive style of film-making. More than others he loves the static shot, where action often takes place outside the frame; movement in and out of the frame of reference is common while the camera does not move. That's why his movies are sometimes perceived as slow and unevolving.

The same with storytelling: a significant part of the story takes place outside the story on screen. And even in a scene the whole scene is never completely obvious: We often have to fill in the details. The effect requires much attention from the viewer, but can also be very interesting or downright shocking.

All his movies also seem to restrict the space where the movie plays out. Repetitive shots in Dare mo shiranai / Nobody Knows of the shopping street, the stairs, the home, etc. seem to strengthen this notion, in order to tell how restricted the world is for the children portrayed. This is further enhanced by the element of time: Time becomes less important throughout the movie as the mother's visits become less and less predictable (the use of the seasons contradicts this in a way).

In communication between actors much emphasis is laid on non-verbal communication, which is superbly done here. (In Distance this went even so far that the story was almost completely told in this way).

Conclusion: Dare mo shiranai/ Nobody Knows is a rewarding movie, but for patient viewers only.
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