Recent East Asian Cinema #7: Nobody Knows.

Welcome to the seventh (and final) of seven posts that will detail East Asian cinema, giving genre history leading up to a recent movie which will be reviewed! I hope you enjoy the series. For more information or previous entries, check the posts below this one.



History: Drama, next to comedy, goes so far back that it would be incredibly hard to detail the history of the genre in this space. So, instead, I will just give a brief history of the genre for Japanese culture. The 1950s really was the big time for the Japanese drama, because it was the debut decade for Akira Kurosawa, who made films like Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, and Ran. Some of his films, such as Ran and Throne of Blood, were based on Shakespearian plays (King Lear and Macbeth, respectively). His films inspired many people, from Sergio Leone to George Lucas.

Three years after the 1985 release of Ran, a set of (completely unrelated) events would occur in Japan widely known as the “Affair of the Four Abandoned Children of Sugamo.” These events would later inspire a 2004 film entitled Nobody Knows, based on the same events, but toned down quite a bit. The movie was Japan’s entry for Best Foreign Film for the Academy Awards, and it won Best Actor Award at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival for fourteen-year-old Yûya Yagira, as well as two other awards (including Best Film) at two other film festivals. And it is the final film I will be discussing for this week of Recent East Asian Cinema.

Nobody Knows (2004).

Country of Origin: Japan.

Original Title: Dare mo shiranai.

Director: Hirokazu Koreeda.

Nobody Knows is about a single mother, Keiko (You), who leaves her four children—Akira (Yûya Yagira), 12 years old and the oldest of the group; Kyoko (Ayu Kitaura); Shigeru (Hiei Kimura); and Yuki (Momoko Shimizu)—alone in an apartment for over a year. She sneaks the younger three in via luggage, and the landlord only knows about Akira and Keiko. All of the children are also born from a different father each, and none of them are registered as ever being born, so none of them goes to school. Keiko has a job (and boyfriend) out of town, and she begins leaving for longer and longer periods of time before she eventually just stops coming home. So now the kids must fend for themselves as eventually they run out of money and therefore food, electricity, and water.

This movie is pretty hardcore, especially since it’s a true story. And what’s worse, I read up on the real story, and it really is a lot worse than it was portrayed in the movie (which is hard to believe). The movie is almost 2 and a half hours long, and feels it. You’re dragged along (especially in the first hour) with these poor children and how they slowly start running out of money and everything else. Akira has to start becoming friends with some store owners in order to get some free food, they have to get water and bathe at the water spout in the park, and just live by the sunlight.

It’s a really tough movie to watch, as you know everything is just going to get worse and worse until it ends in just a depressing manner. But in doing so, it’s a really powerful movie, showing everything these kids had to do to survive, as well as their changing moods and all the decisions they make. You know you were in for a rough time from the very beginning, when you see the mother and oldest son sneaking the other kids in via the luggage (like, they were hiding inside it).

The only negatives would be that the movie is really slow, and the ending (as well as the overall movie in general) is really depressing. And then it has an open ending with no real resolution (which is why I had to go research what really happened). I bet if I watched it again, I’d grow to appreciate the movie even more, and I already really appreciate what it did do in the first place. But I just remember staring at the timer on my DVD player wondering if the movie was ever going to end… though I didn’t want to turn it off, because I was engaged enough to want to know what happened to the kids. It was a bizarre feeling. I think this is one of those movies that everybody should see at least once, but it would be hard to give it a second viewing just because of the subject matter. So yeah… time to rate it.

I Am McLovin!

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