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66 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Koreeda's 'Nobody' is a somber masterpiece
"Nobody Knows," a profoundly moving film from the acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda, proves that the greatest movies don't need flashy action or CGI effects to achieve significant emotional impact. Despite its immediate appearance of stripped-down starkness, it is a film of technical virtuosity and carefully orchestrated sequences. But the true heart of the...
Published on February 25, 2005 by Yotam

versus
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a Feel Good Movie
I thought this movie would be a feel good movie, but it was depressing and dragged on a little too long.
Published 1 month ago by Cynthia in LA


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66 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Koreeda's 'Nobody' is a somber masterpiece, February 25, 2005
By 
Yotam (New York, NY) - See all my reviews
"Nobody Knows," a profoundly moving film from the acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda, proves that the greatest movies don't need flashy action or CGI effects to achieve significant emotional impact. Despite its immediate appearance of stripped-down starkness, it is a film of technical virtuosity and carefully orchestrated sequences. But the true heart of the film -- which is loosely based on the true story of four children abandoned by their mother in Japan in 1988 and discovered six months later -- lies in its shocking realism.

"Nobody Knows" begins when Keiko (played by the Japanese pop star You) deserts her young children in a run-down apartment in a nameless Japanese city with barely enough money to pay the bills. Her oldest son Akira (Yuya Yagira) must fend for himself and protect his younger brother Shigeru (Hiei Kimura) and his sisters Kyoko (Ayu Kitaura) and Yuki (Momoko Shimizu). Akira tries his best to be a parent, borrowing money from dishonest family acquaintances, buying Christmas gifts for his siblings and relying on new friends for help, including the young Saki (Hanae Kan).

Many films have captured the gritty experience of urban survival in a busy and unfriendly city, and plenty are told from the perspective of children. But unlike movies such as the recent "In America," this story is characterized by an utter lack of sentimentality and an extraordinary subtlety. The movie merely hints at the family's past before the opening of the film -- Koreeda is wisely content to develop his characters through action without succumbing to unnecessary narration or expository dialogue.

As such, the storyline of "Nobody Knows" is a loose framework rather than an intricate plot. With sparse dialogue and minimalist production, the film feels wholly authentic, even documentary-like (not coincidently). Koreeda actually hired unprofessional actors, working with them in free-form improvisation and filming the story chronologically. As a result, the performances are astonishingly convincing -- the actors literally age on-screen. (Yuya Yagira, a novice, won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival.)

Koreeda is keenly aware of the power that a slowly unfolding story can have. The film's quietness and slow pacing make the few plot developments and revelations all the more emotional. Rather than relying on dialogue, Koreeda reveals characters' emotions and thoughts in ways that many directors never attempt, through lingering smiles and exchanged glances. The intense connection to these characters and the ultimate emotional payoff at the climax are results of these stylistic choices.

Above all, Koreeda is a brilliant visual storyteller. With his cinematographer Yamazaki Yutaka, he creates a style that perfectly complements the fly-on-the-wall nature of his movie. The camera is patiently kept in one place, and as result much of the action takes place on the edges, even outside, of the frame. Although Koreeda and Yutaka carefully plan each shot, the film's cinematography still feels experimental and beautifully authentic. Yutaka's garish lighting and the set's close quarters, emphasize the seclusion and loneliness of the children's apartment. This symbolism extends to the repeated isolation of visual patterns (Akira on staircases, for example) to demonstrate the hopelessness of the children's existence: As the children revisit old places, each time things seem worse than before.

But, as he did with 1998's "After Life," Koreeda finds unexpected humor and optimism even in the darkest of situations. At one point, Yuki's hilariously squeaky shoes represent the joyous privilege of leaving the house for the first time. In another scene, hand-held camera movement and rapid editing are used to show Akira's exhilaration as he watches a train pass quickly by, dreaming that one day it will take him far away.

Too many contemporary Hollywood films are content to tell rather than show. Koreeda's authentic direction is a refreshing reminder of cinema at its quiet best. But more importantly -- and perhaps more surprisingly, given the simplicity of its style and its plot -- "Nobody Knows" is highly affecting and entirely engrossing. It also constitutes a major social statement: In the late 1980s, when the plight of the four abandoned children came to light, many Japanese were shocked that their society had ever allowed this to happen. But the film, with its patient camera work and natural storyline, make their dark fates seem all too familiar.

(Originally published in the Yale Daily News, February 25, 2005.)
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Movie I Ever Rented On a Whim, December 23, 2005
This review is from: Nobody Knows (DVD)
I hadn't heard of this movie before, and only rented it on a whim because the cover blurb interested me. I didn't expect it to be so emotionally draining-- I watched it yesterday, but I still feel like I might cry just thinking about it!-- but this is definitely one I'll watch again, and one I would like to own.

This seems at first the story of a loving, if selfish and immature mother. . . sure, she raises her family in an unconventional way, but they seem to be a close-knit, generally happy bunch. They even seem fine at first when she leaves them alone with nothing but a note and an envelope of money, but the money starts to run out, and Akira is forced to borrow from his siblings' fathers to keep afloat. When their mother does return, there seems to be a hint of resentment, especially from the older children.

Then we find out just how selfish she can be, as their mother leaves her job and children outright to be with a man. She doesn't even tell them what she's doing-- Akira finds out by calling around to check up on her. I don't think he actually tells his siblings where she's run off to, but Kyoko, at least, seems to know they've been abandoned from fairly early on. She tries to shelter the others with promises their mother will return, but even they become more doubtful as time goes by.

Akira does an admirable job of holding the household together at first, but goes through his own selfish period when he befriends some schoolboys, and spends more time playing games with them than caring for the home and his siblings. By the time he learns their true nature and returns to his home life, the place is in squallor and the utilities are all being turned off. Though their living situation gets worse all the time, surprisingly, the children remain close, and pull together to survive as best they can.

The fact these children are all amateurs makes their acting in this film all the more amazing-- they can convey more emotion in a glance than many Western actors can in a page full of dialogue. I felt connected to these children, and concerned for their well-being, more than any other movie characters I can think of. The adults who seemed to see the situation, yet did nothing to help, infuriated me! Even just the passers-by who saw a group of poor, dirty children in the street yet didn't stop to help, or even question why, made me angry. For all the concern of what might happen if anyone saw them, these children seemed pretty much invisible most of the time.

The ending is incomplete, yes. We never know whether their mother comes back, or whether social services step in at any point. The lack of resolution is mildly annoying, but it also leaves one with the impression that these children are still out there, still doing whatever it takes to survive and stay together. That's the sort of movie this is; salvaging hope from even the darkest and most dire situations.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars bleak, affecting, beautiful, January 23, 2006
By 
Count Zero (Yokohama, Japan) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Nobody Knows (DVD)
Kore-eda's achievement in this film is startling. This is film art grounded in the minimalist traditions of the Ozu school of Japanese filmmaking; leisurely story development, very little camera movement, minimal dialogue, perfectly-pitched performances from the actors. It references much of the best of contemporary Japanese cinema; the abused outcast child seen in Village of Dreams, the rites-of-passage trials in Firefly Dreams, the pagan rituals exhibited in Swallowtail. And yet, added to these elements, is a devastating critique of the anomie afflicting contemporary Japanese society. In recent years we have heard stories of a child found dead in a box in a residential area, a young woman kidnapped and held in a house between the ages of nine and nineteen, children suffocating in a car while their parents play pachinko, and a mother and son who starved to death in the middle of Tokyo because they were too proud to ask for welfare. The film is based on one true story, but I was reminded of all of these stories while viewing. All of these incidents happened in heavily-populated areas, but nobody knew. It is quite a feat that the director manages to indict more than the damaged, neglectful mother; the disinterested neighbours (always shot in an alienating manner, lower-body only or head turned away), the landlord, the utility companies, the convenience store clerks who fail to act. This film fuses social criticism with a beautiful cinematic aesthetic, and it will resonate long beyond the contemporary issues it addresses.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This movie made me cry and I don't cry at movies, July 19, 2005
By 
This review is from: Nobody Knows (DVD)
Four stepsiblings (two boys and two girls) living in present day Tokyo, Japan are suddenly abandoned by their charismatic, yet irresponsibly idealistic mother. Left with only a little money and a vague hope that their mother may return from her romantic escapades (hoping to find a father for her kids), the children struggle to survive on their own.

As unbelievable as the plot sounds, this film succeeds because it is surprisingly believable. The simple piano score, the raw, "documentary-style" of the film, and the slow, but precise pacing all compliment the memorable, realistic acting, especially from Yagira, playing the oldest boy.

Yagira's performance is touching and heartfelt without being "cute" (steven speilberg would be apalled). When the food and water run out, he does not waste time crying or throwing a tantrum. Instead, he tediously pumps water from the local playground pump and shamelessly bums leftover sushi from a restaurant for him and the others, all the while smiling from time to time, dreaming of baseball and school (which he has never attended).

Though they live day to day, looking more grungy and detatched from society,ironically, out of their harsh living, they acquire a compassion and vitality for life much stronger than that of most of their peers in the civilized world. Their newfound strength ultimately helps them to cope with an almost unthinkable tragedy that evokes scenes so powerfully simple that they are likely to remain in the viewer's mind long after the movie is over.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting true-life drama of abandonment and the resilience of children, December 8, 2005
This review is from: Nobody Knows (DVD)
"Dare mo shiranai" (Nobody Knows) by Kore-eda Hirokazu is all the more poignant for being based on a real-life scandal in Japan. In 1988, four children were found abandoned by their mother, living for six months in a squalid Tokyo apartment with no running water, electricity, or food, where one of the children, weakened by malnutrition, was accidentally killed.

As the film begins, the family is moving into yet another apartment; they are continuously evicted for having too many children. The two youngest children arrive smuggled in suitcases, already a sign of the startling neglect to come, as the mother portrays this as a game. The hot, tired children unfold from their suitcase prisons as the mother laughs, claps her hands and tells them "Good job!" in her Minnie Mouse voice. The children's flighty mother is barely more than a child herself, unable to cope with real life and care for her large brood (each child has a different father).

It is never explicitly stated what her job is, but she frequently leaves the children for long stretches of time, expecting eldest son Akira (Yuya Yagira) to care for ten-year-old Kyoko, seven-year-old Shigeru, and five-year-old Yuki. The children are like children everywhere: they long to play outside, be rambunctious, play in the park, be free to dream. Instead, they are virtual prisoners, unable to leave the apartment lest they be caught. Even the small balcony is off limits. Akira does all of the outside shopping, bill paying, and cooking. None of the children go to school. "Why do you want to go to school?" their mother asks. "Famous people don't go to school." Like who? Akira demands. His mother can't come up with a suitable answer.

The inevitable happens: their mother is infatuated with the latest boyfriend, and skips town for good. Akira holds off telling the other children for as long as possible; after all, their mother is frequently gone for months at a time. He is forced to spend down, but it isn't enough. The utilities are eventually cut off, and the apartment descends into a pit of hell, with garbage covering everything. The children must use the bathroom in the park and wash their clothes in a fountain, and survive off of leftover sushi handouts. Akira falls in with a group of thug-like high schoolers who use him, taunt him, and try to get him to shoplift, and the youngest children suffer the most. Somber Kyoko taps out melodies on her toy piano, Shigeru breaks the rules by running wild outside, and Yuki colors and draws pictures that cover every inch of the apartment. Their situation becomes more and more dire; even though the landlord's wife has seen the state of the apartment, no social services are called in. The children are left to fester as their clothes unravel and they slowly succumb to malnutrition. An accident occurs, prompted out of boredom, that changes their close-knit lives. The ending is sparse, haunting, and we are not told what becomes of the children, or if their mother was ever found.

The child actors were essentially filmed living in the apartment throughout an entire year of filming, so in some ways, "Nobody Knows" plays out like a documentary. The scene where they play in the park for the first time was really their first time leaving the apartment in months. It is heartwrenching to watch them spying on "normal" children down below, children who take school for granted, are allowed to ride bikes and play in the park. There is no creative outlet, no exercise, no nourishing food, and yet, although weakened, their spirits still demonstrate the resilience of childhood. Kore-eda's haunting portrait of solitude and survival at its darkest is difficult to watch, but worth the journey.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good to watch if parenting in or out of Japan, April 29, 2006
This review is from: Nobody Knows (DVD)
The issues this movie raises are relevant for parents and kids anywhere- my son is under 5, but I intend to watch this with him if there is not something better out by then when he is around 10 to be able to discuss all the issues this raises. I think it is good for kids to realise that this happens and once they are aware that not everyone can go to school when they want to, or not everyone has parents, I think it can bring up some healthy discussions. It is also a must see for parents, it is not overdramatised and really gives you a sense of what kids feel when they are abandoned and how we as a community can try to watch out for kids in trouble- not only our own.

This movie is so powerful and focuses on the positive things the oldest boy of 4 siblings did to keep his family going once his mother abandoned them. They were able to survive for almost 6 months without anyone seeming to notice their showers in the park and not going to school.

In the true story which you can find some information about (in Japanese) on the internet (Asahi newspaper story 1988) which paints a much darker picture of the actual events which are never represented in the movie. For example, as far as I can tell, the oldest son actually beat the youngest girl because he thought she ate the last of the food and she died from the beating- a very different story occurs in the movie. The mother also had killed one of the children in an accident involving hiding him in a suitcase (so there were originally 6 kids according to the papers).

However, the director and script writers chose only to portray the oldest son's character as a struggling, but protective one- I guess they decided it made a better movie, but the fact that he stuck around and did not abandon his brothers and sisters despite being the most capable and able to survive on his own, is truly representative of his good character which was well represented in the movie. One thing I wish they had added at the end of the film was some kind of summation of what happened to the kids like many movies based on real stories do, I think many viewers want to know if the kids are now doing okay, in foster care or whatever happened to them in the end.

You can read and join in on a discussion of this film and the issues surrounding it (in English) among parents living in Japan at my blog <A HREF="[...]">hiroshimaoyako</A>
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nobody Knows, August 30, 2005
This review is from: Nobody Knows (DVD)
I saw After Life when it first made the rounds here in the States and, to be perfectly honest, I wasn't terribly impressed. After Life was a decent film, with a great concept, but somehow it failed to resonate --- something about Kore-Eda's execution seemed a little "off" (for lack of better terminology). Several years later, in early 2005, I managed to see Nobody Knows without a clue as to who directed it, or even what it was about---- I simply wanted to get outta the house, so there I was. Imagine my surprise, then, when I spent the next 141 minutes in the dark watching one of the most thoughtfully rendered, emotionally complex films I've seen in my entire life! I was quietly blown away, and, fortunately, not the only one in attendance caught off-guard by what an aesthetically attuned and socially relevant work of art this film is. Not a single person in the sold-out theater left before Nobody Knows' conclusion. For a sub-titled movie clocking in at almost two and a half hours, this sort of commitment from an unassuming audience is quite uncommon and usually a sign of greatness on the part of teh director.

I've always wondered what it would be like to be cinematically discerning amidst the initial release of a great film that we now, in retrospect, regard as "classic" --- something like Tarkovsky's Stalker, Varda's Vagabond, Bresson's Pickpocket, or Cassavetes' The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie. While watching such superlative films, it's hard to imagine any critic "in the know" having passed them up during their heyday. And yet this is exactly the sort of cultural climate we exist in today. Nothing has changed. (If you don't believe me, take a look at the Onion AV Club's "The Year In Film: 2004" and ask yourself why an insufferably shallow film like Sideways is on each and every reviewer's top ten list, and yet Nobody Knows, an obvious masterpiece [Yagira Yuya won Best Actor at Cannes 2004], receives no mention whatsoever.) This is why it's important for you, the self-respecting moviegoer, to take a chance on films like Nobody Knows that are barely blips on the pop culture radar. The hipster intelligentsia may never wise up. Thankfully, for those who don't live in big cities like New York, LA, and Chicago, there are DVDs. The color transfer on this release is quite faithful to the original print so home audiences aren't missing a thing. The more Ozu-esque Maborosi is also worthwhile and beautifully shot, and Distance has a highly intriguing narrative, but if you only see one of Kore-Eda's films, do yourself a favor and buy or rent this one. Nobody Knows strikes a rare balance between artfully purposeful realization and accessiblity without compromise. It's a rare treat. And how many other films in recent memory feature children at once adorable and dignified as their main characters? (No, Look Who's Talking Too doesn't count.)
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a memorable, moving Japanese film, July 20, 2006
By 
This review is from: Nobody Knows (DVD)
****1/2

Keiko is a single mother living with her four children (all from different fathers) in a cramped apartment she's recently rented in a middle class section of Tokyo. Fearful that they will be thrown out onto the streets if the neighbors or landlord discover the existence of the kids, she makes the three youngest ones stay indoors and out of sight while the oldest, 12-year-old Akira, is allowed to venture out to run errands and enjoy at least some semblance of a normal life. None of the children attend school. Despite his youth, Akira, in many ways, has been forced to assume the role of parent, providing for the other children while Keiko stays away for months at a time, ostensibly earning money working (though we are inclined to speculate that there may be a far more nefarious truth behind the absences that is never fully revealed to us).

Based on a true story, "Nobody Knows" is more of an observational study on human behavior than a full-fledged narrative; it is a film that uses the minutiae of everyday life, rather than heavy-handed plot points, to generate its drama. As virtual prisoners in their own apartment, the children survive as best they can without adult supervision or guidance. Indeed, in its own quiet way, the film serves as an allegory of a much larger issue, a stinging indictment against a society that too often abandons and neglects its children to pursue its own selfish interests - most often to devastating and disastrous results both for the youngsters themselves and for the society as a whole.

Beautifully written and directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, this is a heartrending film filled with moments of quiet perceptions and unforgettable images. The actors portraying the children are all truly amazing - wholly natural, unaffected and believable in front of the camera. Yuya Yagira, as young Akira, is basically called on here to carry the film and he does so in a way that leaves one awestruck and breathless. His is an exquisitely internalized performance, serious and stoic on the outside, yet with a sly mischievousness that peeks through from time to time to remind us that Akira is really just a kid at heart, forced to grow up much too fast and assume the mantle of adult responsibility that the actual "adults" around him have been all too eager to abandon. What's so heartbreaking about this film is watching these sweet (but never cloying) children being deprived of all the true essentials of a happy childhood - freedom, fresh air, open space, education, even food and electricity, not to mention the all-important feeling of security and belonging that comes with the love and guidance of a fully engaged parent. Yet, although they yearn for all these things, the children seem to accept their plight with a sort of uncomplaining fatalism combined with a love of one another and a resourcefulness and spirit of survival that is both astonishing and inspiring.

Nothing about "Nobody Knows" is ever obvious or underlined, not its message and certainly not its emotions. These seep into the film gradually and unobtrusively so as not to disturb the near-documentary nature of the movie. We feel almost as if we are eavesdropping on the children, as if we were the very neighbors from whom they are trying so desperately to hide. There's no point in denying that the movie requires patience from the viewer, for it achieves its power subtly and slowly, through an artfully arranged accumulation of activities and details. Yet, this is precisely what draws us into the world of the film and makes us, finally, not mere observers but rather empathetic participants with the characters.

It takes time to get to where it's going, but "Nobody Knows" will leave an indelible mark on your heart.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartbreaking And Harrowing Family Drama--"Nobody Knows" Is A Powerful Japanese Film You Won't Likely Forget, February 7, 2007
This review is from: Nobody Knows (DVD)
"Nobody Knows" is a terrific, if downbeat film, based on a real life case of child abandonment that unfolded in Tokyo in the late eighties. This Japanese film, by Hirokazu Koreeda, is an elegant, understated and heartbreaking account of one family coming to terms with the unthinkable. But far from Hollywood melodrama, this quiet film unfolds at a natural pace and confronts day to day living in a matter of fact way. This lack of sensationalism, this refrain from overt dramatics, distinguishes "Nobody Knows" as a film of great import and harrowing realism. For this film never cues the audience with big emotional sequences. Instead, it relies on a dignity and intelligence that builds real suspense and genuine involvement--you become invested in the children's plight simply because you are asked to live it with them.

The film begins as a young single mother, apparently evicted from her last residence, moves into a new apartment with her 12 year old son Akira. After dealing with her new landlord, they start unpacking. In the process, two young children are revealed to have been hiding in the luggage, and an older sister is subsequently snuck into the apartment late at night. With 5 of them living in the space, the ground rules are set. Akira is the only one that is to leave the apartment, the others are to remain silent and unseen. It quickly becomes clear that Akira is the primary caregiver, and as time goes on the mother becomes less present. Leaving money, she starts leaving for weeks or months at a time (for job and boyfriend) only to return as if nothing is out of the ordinary. And then....she simply doesn't return at all.

Again, the effectiveness of "Nobody Knows" is the way it quietly builds in intensity. As Akira and his siblings adjust to a new form of existence, there are no histrionics--no emotional grandstanding. No, it's just kids who are resilient--who do what they need to do. And while some may claim that the film's length or pacing is problematic, I found that the time spent was well justified. We are with the kids on every step of the journey--from their denial, to their acceptance, to their liberation from the rules, their struggles and successes. It can be sad, to be sure, but it is never less than honest.

Grounding the production is Yuya Yagira as Akira. In an incredibly natural and dignified performance, we see a true portrait of a child wizened beyond his years. Caring for the family, being the provider--Yagira conveys the emotional complexity of his position. You understand and respect Akira, even when he faces some decisions no one should have to face. Yagira won the Best Actor prize at Cannes for his astute performance. "Nobody Knows" is recommended for serious, adult minded viewers. Not always easy entertainment, this great film strives and achieves so much more. KGHarris, 02/07.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Children of Courage., June 7, 2006
By 
Jennifer Heath (Somerville, MA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Nobody Knows (DVD)
A graceful and haunting film from Japanese writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda. Four children struggle to survive on their own in a tiny Tokyo apartment after their childlike mother abandons them. The oldest, Akira (Yűya Yagira) and his sister Kyoko (Ayu Kitaura) try to maintain some semblance of family life for the younger children, Shigeru (Hiei Kimura) and Yuki (Momoko Shimizu), but ultimately tragedy befalls the four.

This is a long, slowly paced, minimalist film, but it rewards the patient viewer with its tender attention to the simple beauty and minutia of the children's world as well as the utterly natural performances of the child actors.
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Nobody Knows
Nobody Knows by Hirokazu Koreeda (DVD - 2005)
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