Sunday, August 23, 2009

Nobody Knows, a Film by Kore-Eda Hirokazu

Taking care of our children is a responsibility that most of us assume willingly. We are with them each morning as they wake and put them to bed at night. We provide food, clothing, shelter, and whatever they need for school and play. If we have several children, we may teach the oldest to help us with the younger ones. If, however, we are very poor and need to work outside the home at odd hours, the normal routine may be altered, and the older child sometimes is asked to do more than is fair and reasonable. This is the case to the extreme in a shocking film from Japan, Nobody Knows, directed by Kore-Eda Hirokazu.

In Nobody Knows, an unmarried mother of four moves her family into an apartment with rules against young children. In the opening scenes, she introduces only Akira, a teenage boy, to her new landlord. She sneaks her other three children into the apartment, the two smallest in suitcases, which were sent with the moving van! As a viewer, you know immediately that something is wrong.

Negligence is followed with abandonment in this film based on actual events. While it happened in Toyko, it could and probably is happening in Chicago, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Paris, and other large cities where people do not know their neighbors. I am especially reminded of Paris, as there are scenes very reminiscent of those in films by Francois Truffaut, who featured children in The 400 Blows and Small Change. Like Truffaut, Hirokazu has managed to film children being children with no traces of fiction.

At two hours and nineteen minutes, the film seems slightly long. I was riveted but emotionally drained during the last half hour. If not for the length, I would recommend it very strongly for film discussion groups. I'm sure the film group at my library would have a lively discussion after viewing. In any case, it belongs in collections that feature foreign films.

Hirokazu, Kore-Eda. Nobody Knows. MGM DVD, 2005. ISBN 0792867394

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