Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Nobody Knows (Dare mo shiranai)

NOBODY KNOWS (DARE MO SHIRANAI) (Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2004)

A mother abandons her four children, leaving twelve-year-old Akira to care for his younger siblings in NOBODY KNOWS. Their mom disappears for long stretches a couple times but returns, so the kids have no reason to think she is not coming back. Since the landlord believes that only Akira and his mother live in the apartment—the two youngest were smuggled into their new home inside suitcases--Kyoko, Shigeru, and Yuki are instructed to stay inside at all times, except for when Kyoko must step onto the porch to do the laundry. Akira is wise enough to understand that mom may have left them for good, but he can only do so much to care for his brother and sisters.

Director Hirokazu Kore-eda tells this harrowing tale with such delicacy and grace that the dark places where NOBODY KNOWS eventually travels don’t feel oppressive. Through a documentary-like approach and reliance on tight close-ups in their apartment, Hirokazu evokes the children’s worldview and their ignorance of how perilous their situation is. The child actors are remarkable in their simple, unaware performances. As Akira, Yûya Yagira won the Best Actor award at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival for his heartbreaking work.

Whether intended or not, NOBODY KNOWS owes much to the films of François Truffaut, specifically THE 400 BLOWS and SMALL CHANGE. Hirokazu’s film is what the first Antoine Doinel film might have been like if it focused exclusively on the time he ran away from home and found a hidden place in Paris to live and play. A tracking shot of Akira running through the city and the film-ending freeze frame are the strongest tip-offs to any 400 BLOWS homage. The children in NOBODY KNOWS turn their parent-free home into a little paradise. Hirokazu dwells on the resiliency of children, a theme that also resonated in SMALL CHANGE and which gives the film a lightness not inherent in the subject matter. It’s one of the year’s best films.

Grade: A

(Review first aired in a shorter version on the July 5, 2005 NOW PLAYING)

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