Saturday, June 25, 2011

Nobody Knows


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 5/19/09 w/ Additional Edits.


Written, directed, and edited by Hirokazu Koreeda, Dare mo shiranai (Nobody Knows) tells the story of four young children, abandoned by their mother, as they each try to survive on their own. The film is a tale of how children interact in the huge city of Tokyo while trying to survive without their mother as they're each birthed by different fathers. Starring Yuya Yagira, Ayu Kitaura, Hiei Kimura, Momoko Shimizu, Hanae Kan, You, and Kazumi Kushida. Dare mo shiranai is a lively yet harrowing film from Hirokazu Koreeda.

Arriving to Tokyo with lots of baggage and things, a mother named Keiko (You) and her 12-year old son Akira (Yuya Yagira) both arrive into an apartment which they will be living. Inside 3 large luggage carriers are three other children. The eldest daughter Kyoko (Ayu Kitaura), the youngest son Shigeru (Hiei Kimura), and the five-year-old daughter Yuki (Momoko Shimizu). With Akira sent to do all the shopping for groceries and things while Keiko goes to work, the three younger children all have to live in the apartment quietly and without any noise. Kyoko meanwhile, has to do all the laundry in secrecy. Things seem well until Keiko starts to meet a man whom she's infatuated by where she was suddenly gone for a month. Akira now has to take care for his three siblings, all of whom have different fathers, as he and Kyoko cook for the younger kids. Though left with money, Akira knows that getting some cash will be short as he turns to a couple of Keiko's ex-boyfriends, one of whom is Yuki's father, a cab driver (Yuichi Kimura).

Keiko returns to bring presents and such but Akira feels resentment towards Keiko's absence as she reveals she's got a job in Osaka and says she will return for the Christmas holidays. With Christmas coming, the kids are excited but for some reason, Keiko doesn't return as Akira learns that she quit her job. Carefully spending the money they have in a bank account, Akira takes Yuki out of the apartment for her birthday to see the sights of Tokyo. While Akira has aspirations to play baseball, he couldn't help but have the chance to make friends and do the things kids his age and older are doing. One day, he does do those things but Kyoko starts to worry that it might cause some money problem as a gas bill payment is now overdue. Suddenly, the kids Akira thought were his friends abandoned him as money is suddenly becoming smaller and smaller with Keiko not likely to return.

After deciding to end the isolation, all four kids decided to roam through Tokyo and spend the last of their money on things they needed. Yet, it would become a test of survival as they're faced with no power, water, or gas. After befriending a schoolgirl named Saki (Hanae Kan), she visits them frequently as she becomes friends with the four kids but is aware of their situation. After deciding to help Akira with his financial troubles, Saki makes a move where Akira is suddenly isn't so sure about what Saki did. The emotional frustration and despairing heat of the Tokyo summer finally forces upon the harsh realization that Akira and his siblings have to fend for themselves with their mother not likely to return at all.

The film is based on a true story of a 1988 incident in which a woman abandons four children that would lead to tragic outcome. Writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda takes those events but creates something less grim but still dealt with realism. In the film, it's really about how a 12-year old child struggles to help maintain the survival of his young siblings while dealing with the grim realities he has to face. Therefore, his chances to live a part of his childhood becomes harder to do while his siblings have to hide from people at the apartment and their landlord. Of course, this isolation causes problems which eventually led for the character of Akira to give his siblings the freedom they crave against their mother's rules. Without their mother and money, it's up to them to fend for themselves.

While the script is largely improvised, there's a looseness to the storytelling where the kids have a chance to interact and play real characters. It's not just the script, or lack of, that helps the story move quite easily with so little plot. It's Koreeda's direction that really drives the film into a lively narrative that gives the film a lot of movement. Its lack of plot might slow the film down but it doesn't as Koreeda keeps the camera moving for the young actors to move around while only having still shots for the more intimate, dramatic scenes. At the same time, the film showed the kids growing in the span of a year as it was shot chronologically for nearly a year to add a dramatic realism to the film.

While there's humor and drama mixed in throughout the film, its' Koreeda's direction which is obviously influenced by the French New Wave in its loose style and rich, striking compositions that gives the film a mesmerizing feel. Even as he edits the film himself with the use of smooth transitions, fade-outs, and jump-cuts to keep the film moving without slowing it down too much or making it too fast. The result is truly a heartwarming yet harrowing drama from Hirokazu Koreeda.

Cinematographer Yutaka Yamasaki creates beautiful images with his sheer, evocative camera work with the blue-greenish look of Tokyo in the nighttime with some excellent, nighttime interiors for the apartment scenes when there's light and even more darker, low-light shows for the interiors. The exterior daytime shots depending on the weather of the day from the grayish rainy day/winter scenes or the bright, colorful day time scenes. Yamasaki's work is truly exquisite in the film's loose, lively direction. Production designers Toshihiro Isomi and Keiko Mitsumatsu do excellent work with the film's art direction in the look of the apartment where it starts off clean to something that becomes dirty and grungy. The sound work of Yutaka Tsurumaki is well-done in capturing the atmosphere of Tokyo along with the sounds of video games played along with the shoes that Yuki wears.

The music by the guitar duo of Titi Matsumura and Gonzalez Mikami, known as Gontiti, is very plaintive and simplified to the film's lively, innocent tone of the film. Notably since it's just played with just acoustic guitars that proves to be memorable and exhilarating. In the soundtrack, a somber song by Takako Tate is brilliant that plays up to a sad moment in the film that proves to be mesmerizing in its emotions.

The casting by Yoshiko Arae is phenomenal with some memorable roles from Ryo Kase and pop vocalist Takako Tate as mini-market employees and Sei Hara as the mini-market manager. Other notable small roles as Keiko's ex-boyfriends are Yuichi Kimura as a cab driver and Kenichi Endo as a Pachinko Parlor employee along with Kazuyoshi Kushida as the landlord. In the role of Keiko, Japanese pop singer You is very good as the reckless, flaky mother of the children who likes to party more rather than take of her kids. Hanae Kan is great as Saki, the schoolgirl who befriends Akira and his siblings as she is willing to help him. Kan's subtle yet entrancing performance is mesmerizing in what is the film's best supporting role.

Momoko Shimizu is great as Yuki, the youngest daughter at five years old who exudes all of the innocence and free spirit that is played throughout the film while wearing some cute little noisy shoes to go along with it. Hiei Kimura is also great as Shigeru, the hyperactive, noisy kid who is just as lively and exuberant as any 7-year old kid can be. Ayu Kitaura is excellent as Kyoko, the 10-year old girl who is dealing with changes while missing her mother as she needed a strong, female adult presence. Finally, there's Yuya Yagira in a phenomenal performance as Akira, the 12-year old boy who has to be the adult of sorts for his older sibling. Yagira's observant, subtle, and entrancing performance is the heart of the film as he shows great conflict into a character that wants to be a kid but has to be an adult at the same time.

Dare mo shiranai is a mesmerizing, haunting, yet heartwarming film from Hirokazu Koreeda. Thanks in part to a great cast led by its young actors including Yuya Yagira. It's a film filled with lively moments through Koreeda's loose, free-wielding direction and moments that are filled with harsh realities. Yet, it's also accessible and heartwarming in its story of four children coming together to survive after their mother had abandoned them. It's not an easy film to watch but a film that can't be ignored as well as it's one of the most touching films of the decade. In the end, Dare mo shiranai is a harrowing yet touching film from Hirokazu Koreeda that truly shows the enduring spirit of children.

Hirokazu Koreeda Films: (Lessons from a Calf) - (However) - (August Without Him) - Maborosi - (This World) - (Without Memory) - (After Life) - (Distance) - (Hana) - Still Walking - (Air Doll) - (I Wish) - (Like Father, Like Son (2013 film)) - Our Little Sister

© thevoid99 2011

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