A heart-rendingly winsome picture, early contender for the best of the year
Few directors can create settings as developed or as ponderous asHirokazu Koreeda's, and his touch seems perfectly suited for NOBODYKNOWS, a film that shows the world through the perspective of 5 kidsleft to fend for themselves when there is no one else to turn to.Koreeda's work seems to catch everything vital to the story and getseach detail just right. Based on a true story and acted by mostlynon-professionals, the picture has an uncommonly natural perspective ofa situation that seems terrifying but is absolutely, unquestionablytrue.
It is deeply unnerving to see the ways in which the parents of the 4central characters rationalize the neglect that has shaped their lives,and it is downright horrific to see the ways in which the mothermanipulates the children. A child herself, the mother knows how to seelife from a child's perspective. This allows her to control thechildren by giving presents and rewards most kids fantasize about whilecompletely denying them everything a responsible parent would givetheir children. (One such instance is how the oldest girl is encouragedto save up to buy a piano while she is denied the "luxury" of going toschool.) The kids are made to feel like they must always tip-toethrough life; they are everybody's burden and should feel fortunatethat anyone is looking out for them at all.
The film is a heartbreaking tale of child neglect, but it is elevatedto also be a story about finding your own way despite the odds. Givingthe film a bit of depth, there are undertones that hint at the storybeing a social commentary on the price of living in Japan, though thattheme is comfortably left far beneath the surface. I do not think Ihave ever seen a film that captured the wondrous viewpoint of the worldthrough a child's eyes as well as this does, and that the story keptdigging deeper and further past the premise kept surprising me. If youthink you know where this one's going, you probably don't.
The performances are uniformly excellent, including the award-winningwork of Yûya Yagira as the eldest boy. Undeniably affecting, hisperformance anchors the film and shapes the story's effortless, naturalheart.
**** out of ****
-By the way, this is smartly being marketed as a horror film, but Iassure you it is more a domestic drama that just happens to wind up ina very dark place (i.e. if you walk in expecting RINGU, you'll bedisappointed).
This also struck me as being a much more approachable film than eitherKoreeda film I've seen before (MABOROSI and AFTER LIFE), so even if youhave seen his past works and thought they were not your cup of tea, Iwould definitely still recommend this one.