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 did...it 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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