Nobody Knows plays out like vintage Ozu, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the modern world. With a lucidly flowing camera, Kore-eda tells an ultimately tragic story with the beauty of traditional Japanese quietude. No oversentimentality. No cliches. Just strong beautious filmstyling.
Based on the 1988 all-too true tale of a mother who abandons her four children in a Tokyo apartment for six months. Left alone, the children, three of which are completely unknown to the neighbours, slowly desintegrate into a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.
The story actually starts on a humourous note, as we see the mother and her twelve year old son moving into their new apartment. Unbeknownst to the neighbours, two more children are freed from inside their suitcase prisons - a seemingly surreal moment that forebodes of ultimate doom - while a fourth child is snuck inside after dark.
Akira, the eldest child, at twelve, is the father-by-proxy of these children - Kyoto, a ten year old girl, full of malaise, Shigiru, the eight year old enfant terrible and Yuki, the precocious little girl. Akira is also the only one allowed to be seen by the outside world - with the added burdon of doing the grocery shopping and making sure the bills are paid, Akira has the weight of his siblings lives on his head - just at the time in his life, that he should be playing and having fun.
After money runs out, Akira attempts blackmail, theft (and his one friend, a quiet teenage girl from the school in his neighbourhood even attempts prostitution) and anything else that will help his brother and sisters, Eventually, the electricity and water are shut off and a black cloud developes above these children's heads. You know at least one will die (and one does die in the true-life story) and you wait for it, and wait for it, and wait for it - like Damocles sword about to fall. Almost every scene permeates with a possible dread that you know will eventually happen.
The most harrowing thing about this story (and it reverberates the police accounts to a tee) is the the lack of knowledge from any of these children's neighbours - nobody knew this tragedy was occuring right on the other side of their walls - not until it was too late. No neighbour even knew of the existance of three of the children. An anonymous tragedy in an anonymous city.
Kore-eda makes it even more tragic by showing the story not from the typical view of the outsiders finding these children, but from the inside - how it seemed from these four children's points-of-view. Although the suspense seems to drag on forever, Kore-eda has created a tight, quiet, yet flowing film - Ozu would be proud. [03/11/05]