Getting into the child's mind
Like 99.99% (or some such number) of the audience, I am no childpsychologist (or any sort of psychologist, for that matter), but itjust occurs to me that we won't fully appreciate Nobody Knows unless wecleanse ourselves of our adult mentality and try to get into thechild's mind. We do get some help, with the POV shots at low levels, asthe kids do spend a lot of time on the floor in the apartment which isboth their home and their prison.
Let me back up a little. A still relatively young mother, whose mentalcapacity is probably not that much more than that of a child, had fourchildren with four different men. Renting an apartment together withher oldest, 12-year-old son, the only one of the four that she canreveal to the world at large, she smuggles the other three into thisnew 'home'. Leaving her children with no schooling at all, she goesaway for weeks to pursue her own life, leaving Akira (Yagira Yuya) tolook after his siblings. Her absence soon becomes perpetual, as thechildren can barely survive on the money she sends very occasionally.
Such then, is the 'story', if it can be called one. But then, it is atrue story, and what we see is close to being a documentary. DirectorHirokazu explains clearly with the opening credit, however, that whilethe events are true, the characters of the children are created for thefilm. By helping us get into the world of these children, DirectorHirokazu makes the film less gloomy than the actual events, at leastduring the first half of it.
The two little ones are too young to worry about survival or trulycomprehend sorrow. Shigeru (Kimura Hiei) is a little guy withinsuppressible spirit and insatiable curiosity. Yuki (Shimuzu Momoko)is the most adorable little girl there is. In their child's world, theyquietly accept being barely at the fringe of survival, such as havingto wash in public fountains when water supply at the apartment has beencut off. What is most heartbreaking is watching Akiru's younger(slightly) sister Kyoko (Kitaura Ayu). While the little kids are'smuggled' into the apartment in the luggage, Kyoko travels by herselfin a train, to be met by Akiru at night. The first thing she asks herbrother is the location of the washing machine, because washing isapparently the family duty assigned to her and she is worried that ifthe washing machine in out on the balcony, she will not be able todischarge her responsibility without being spotted by neighbors.Duty-conscious and extremely good-natured, her dispositions are almostangelic. But she also has all the dreams of a pre-adolescent girl. Shetries on her mother's nail polish and, idling at the small toy piano,dreams of the day when she will have her own piano. And yet, at thevery first family (that is, the four kids') financial trouble, shecontributes all the money she's been saving for that very purpose.
It's 14-year-old Yagira Yuya, playing 12-year-old Akira, that won thebest actors award at Cannes, beating strong contenders in Hong Kong's2046 and Korea's Old Boy. Akira is a pre-adolescent boy growing towardsadolescence under the enormous burden of looking after the family in acontinuously deteriorating financial situation. He hides a lot withinhimself as he toughs his way through vicissitudes, but the child in himis not totally lost. He lets go at one point, allowing himself to beindulged in video games and baseball. His tantalizing adolescentyearning is brought out in an unusual friendship with rebellious richschoolgirl Saki (Kan Hanae) who later becomes part of the 'family'. Thefinal trail is a tragic incident for which he must be blaming himselfon his temporary absence. Such is the range of emotions that Yuya hadto handle, and his Cannes award is well deserved.
The film starts not without light, happy moments, particularly as seenthrough the child's eye in the audience. As the situation gets from badto worse, Director Hirokazu does not drag us through wails and screams,as a lesser one would. He doesn't even give that much dialogue. Throughthe two hours of the film he simply bleeds our hearts with images ofthese children whom we have come to really care for, and goes on tobleed them some more.