Nobody Knows is the story of four young children, who struggle to survive in a large Japanese inner city apartment, after being abandoned by their mother. Surprisingly, there are moments of real joy and happiness, followed by the inevitable tragedy, and one can’t help being moved.
Akira, the eldest son at twelve years old, is seemingly the only responsible person in this film. We first meet him and his mother, moving into a new apartment block, lugging heavy baggage upstairs. Upon opening them, we meet the other three children, Kyoko, Shigeru and Yuki. These children are adorable – from Akira’s earnest charm to Yuki’s innocence and Shigeru’s playfulness, the children are the real highlight of this film. They are completely natural on screen, surprising for such young actors, and yet understandable when you know the director spent months just playing with them to acclimatise them all, both to himself and his camera.
This interesting set-up is given further power by the almost complete absence of adults in this film. We are shown a Japanese city from the point of view of a forgotten child – one whom no-one cares about, who is just trying to live up to the impossible task set him by his uncaring mother. There are adults who briefly cross the screen, but none show any real interest in Akira or his siblings, and none even try to meet their social responsibilities to these children. In fact the most helpful outsiders turn out to be another pre-pubescent outcast, Saki, and some unnamed shopkeepers who occasionally give Akira some free food.
Yûya Yagira is masterful, belying his age and inexperience to give a finely nuanced performance in the lead. His expression, particularly his ability to convey so much with his face and body language, make his role the clear standout. He won the Best Actor award at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, not surprising given the quality of his performance. His siblings are all well-played, although none reach the heights of their onscreen big brother.
The pace of this film is the only thing I had any complaint with – a little too long was spent on some sections, particularly the segment where Akira is trying to make friends with some similarly aged boys. The overall running time, and these slower sections, combined to decrease my enjoyment, although at no stage did I question the quality of what I was seeing. (A good example of the use of the ‘hoopla factor’).
Whilst not made for a fun night out, or as a date movie, Nobody Knows is a wonderfully made film, with impressive performances, leading, unfortunately, to the somewhat obvious denouement. Highly Recommended.Rating: