Nobody Knows (2004)

Dir. by Hirokazu Kore-eda

After Life is one of my favorite films of the past five years, so for that reason alone, I was very much looking forward to Kore-eda’s latest, Nobody Knows, the story of four young siblings whose mother abandons them to find work in another city. Unfortunately, because of a few wrong turns and some confusion regarding the location of my tickets, I missed the first hour of the film and will, therefore, keep my comments brief.

I entered the theater just as the oldest child, Chunan (played by Yuya Yagira, winner of the best actor prize at Cannes), comes to realize that their mother will not be returning. We watch as they adapt to life alone: washing their clothes in the park, collecting day-old food from the back doors of neighborhood stores, searching for discarded change in pay phones and vending machines.

Kore-eda shoots the exteriors from a great distance, using long lenses that flatten the depth of field. Doing so allows his young actors to move naturally, freed from the close presence of camera and crew. There is nothing self-conscious or “actorly” in their performances, which lends added weight to the inevitable tragedy of their situation.

Nobody Knows ends, not surprisingly, in a freeze frame, the most obvious but certainly not only allusion to The 400 Blows. Like Truffaut’s film, Kore-eda’s demands that we sympathize with its young protagonist and judge the adults and the systems that have failed them. I have some problems with the film but will reserve judgment until after seeing it in its entirety. I would imagine that it will find relatively wide distribution.