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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
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   Nobody Knows  


Nobody Knows

Reviewed by Lin Weiwen

Japanese Title: Dare mo shiranai
Director: Koreeda Hirokazu
Writing Credits: Koreeda Hirokazu
Cast: Yagira Yuya, Kitaura Ayu, Kimura Hiei, Shimizu Momok, Kan Hanae, You
Genre: Drama
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Year Released: 2004
Runtime: 141 min
Rating: *** (out of four stars)

I watched Nobody Knows yesterday and give my thumbs up for it.

I won’t dive too much into the plot for fear of giving too much away, but for the uninitiated, here’s a quick peek: a young mother moves into an apartment with her four kids and abandons them one day, leaving the children to live and survive on their own. The kids, deprived of parental affection and formal education, seek solace and advice under the watchful eyes of their oldest brother, Akira.

Personally, the film reminds me very much of Takahata Isao’s 1988 anime gem, Grave of the Fireflies, which depicts the tale of survival of a brother and his younger sister after being orphaned when their mother died in a bombing raid by the Americans. In both films, the protagonists go through a journey of pain and self-discovery.

Nobody Knows also serves up a very different fare from today’s Hollywood staple, as much of the emotions and thoughts conveyed in the film are implied through the characters’ actions and symbolic shots, instead of unsubtle lines of dialog: a lingering shot of Akira’s quivering hands as he ponders to shoplift, and a shot of an old smudged stain of nail polish on the floor suggesting the passage of time. There is no need for voice-over narratives or cue titles, Koreeda lets the camera do the talking. In fact, the last time I watched a movie filled with such lingering and implicative shots on a subject or character was The Thin Red Line. Being a bit of a dreamer myself, it is nice to see someone applying those dreamy, unhurried shots in a movie. The end result is that those scenes echo powerfully inside your mind long after the film has ended.

Prior to watching the film, I was quite surprised when I read that the film’s 14-year-old lead actor, Yagira, had won the Best Actor prize at Cannes for his performance. But after watching it, I must say that he really deserved the prize. And it is all the more impressive for he was not a professional actor. Yagira’s performance is filled with nuances that would put any professional actor to shame.

The film has some adoring faces: Yuki, the cute youngest gal in the cohort and her reserved elder sister Kyoko, are characters whom the audience can identify with easily. The introduction of an attractive schoolgirl later on in the film imparts some balance to an already despairing atmosphere.

I highly recommend this film to anyone who wants to get away from Hollywood’s usual shallow fare, and who wants to appreciate something truly different and powerful.

This review first appeared in on 6 January 2005.