Turning Rubble into Beauty
I went to the cinema to watch Daremo Shiranai,and have just returnedfrom my second viewing only days later.And frankly, I would gladly go athird time.The storyline is fairly simple: four half-siblings aregradually abandoned by their mother in a flat in Tokyo -they are prettymuch left to fend for themselves in a world that is oblivious of theirexistence.The plot strikingly reminded me of Virginia Andrews' Flowersin the Attic,though as far as my rusty memory of that book goes,Ithought the movie drew out in a more silent manner,what with itsconsiderable length,unfortunately seems to make it 'too slow'(i.e.boring)for many.Daremo perhaps may not enjoy the commercial success ofits contemporaries(both my attendances saw not more than fivespectators in a large cinema-hall,the only one playing the movieamongst dozens of modern cinema-complexes strewn around town),but itscreation clearly constitutes a labour of love by director HirokazuKoreeda,a love which,as of any great artist,he does not compromise.
Keiko,mother of four children from different relationships,wins herchildren's trust through her winsome manner,while depriving them of anormal life of school and friends.Their imprisonment in the flat iscompensated with bribes in the form of gifts after an especially longabsence,and promises,particularly for the elder two,of a betterfuture(she is currently 'in love' with a rich man who will provide alife of luxury for them all).But both Akira,twelve,and his half sisterKyoko, ten,cannot help doubting if they can rely on her.They want morethan anything to trust her,but how can they when she leaves them anddisappears for weeks on end,only to spring up again in as sprightly amanner as if she were returning from a day at work.
Akira,being the eldest,was the only one allowed to 'be seen'(he is her'only son' as far as the landlord's awareness)and therefore the onlyone allowed outside the flat,being entrusted by Keiko with buying thegroceries and preparing meals.Kyoko,in charge of the laundering, mustsneak outside into the balcony to run the washing machine.The twoyoungest,Shigeru of about six and Yuki,four,are instructed not to makemuch noise so as not to attract the landlord's attention.
Weeks,and eventually months go by without any sign of their mother.Money gradually wanes,water and electricity are shut off due tonon-payment,and the children slowly outwear their clothes.The declinein their living conditions is slow but steady,yet through it all wewitness the beauty they manage to create in a progressively decayingenvironment.The room is saturated with junk,overshadowed only by Yuki'scrayon drawings(her only pastime).When their home seems to reach apoint of being almost uninhabitable,Akira pulls out his siblings' shoesfrom the closet,and with a smile full of anticipation the four of themstep out together for the first time into the sunlight,enjoying thesense of freedom,mirthful as any child skipping to the park on a Sundaymorning.And they bring back a part of that glorious outside to theirflat in the form of seeds,which they plant in their balcony in emptypot-noodle containers.They effectively manage to create beauty in theirown little world of abandonment,not only in the form of plants but alsothrough the warmth of their spirits.
During the length of the movie the children speak more through looksthan through words.Words often fail a child,and Koreda shows us thefruitless attempts of Akira and Kyoko trying to express theirfrustration or getting through to their mother with words,as shecircumvents their precarious protests with the unfairness of fluentverbal diplomacy,but not once looking at them and allowing the guilt toreach her.The children,after all,are not unaware of a sense ofabandonment by their mother,and in the case of Akira and Kyoko thefeeling becomes more confounding as they try to come to terms withit.Kyoko's whisper 'she smells of alcohol' as she passes by herbrother, as if seeking reassurance,but mostly her wistfulexpression,tells of her broken desire to believe in her mother'slove.Her timid smile as her mother takes on the adventure of paintingher daughter's nails, though only managing to slop the nail-polishuntidily over her nails and onto parts of her fingertips in her currentstate of inebriation, is a heartbreaking moment that speaks of Kyoko'slonging to believe that her mother does care.That confused smilebrought me back to Francie in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as she tried tomake sense of her father's drunkenness and broken promises,..."if a manspent all his time trying to be like that,then no matter what else hedid...it would be all right, wouldn't it?".Later on Kyoko drops thenail-polish bottle in a realization that that moment meant nothing morethan just another of her mother's whims.So mostly Koreeda allows hiscamera to simply focus on the natural expression of the children,through looks and gestures,rather than try to pry from their lipsemotions which they don't know how to translate into words.Even Akira'sfriendship with an older schoolgirl,Saki,who is relatively well-off butequally isolated from society,was founded on a simple and silent mutualacceptance of each other's existence rather than by meaningfuldialogue.Saki becomes a part of their lives and they a part of hers,andher unhesitant and straightforward act of earning some money for themby going to a 'karaoke' with a man is a testimony of the deep value offriendship.
There are many beautifully poignant scenes in this movie,witnessedsilently by Koreeda's unimposing camera,picking up little details ofthe children's innocent expression of life.As a friend of mine says,real life situations often don't lend themselves to pat solutions,andthis movie doesn't intend to devise one.The last scene of four childrenwalking away from the camera,to goodness knows what future,is chargedwith a mixed feeling of forlorn uncertainty and sorrow,but also withlove,acceptance and optimism,all that's left when there are no patsolutions -and the will to make a garden out of the discards of theirtorn lives.After all,did the children ever have a different spirit?