Monday Movie: Nobody Knows, by David Bax
With After the Storm, yet another grand achievement from director Koreeda Hirokazu, currently in theaters, I thought it worth turning my attention back to Nobody Knows, the 2004 film that first made me aware of the director and one that has remained indelible.
Nobody Knows, loosely based on a true story, concerns four siblings between the ages of five and twelve who are abandoned by their single mother in a small Tokyo apartment and left to fend for themselves. The oldest, Akira, becomes the de facto parent but also feels the inexorable tug of childhood.
As described, the story sounds relentlessly grim and, in many harrowing ways, it is just that. But the unpretentious warmth of Koreeda’s filmmaking results in a film that is surprisingly uplifting, even when it takes turns that will devastate and infuriate you. Koreeda has a tendency to frame things on the wider side but without a wide angle lens. Thus, his images are geometric in the way of the everyday world, all windows and doorframes neatly dissecting solid walls. At this point in his career, it’s almost reflexive to describe his style as naturalistic but it’s also difficult to find another word that fits so well. He lets scenes go on at length, immersing us in the daily milieu of these children’s lives, eventually encouraging us to think the way they do. Nobody Knows doesn’t explicitly pass judgment on the mother who abandoned these kids, because her actions are so self-evidently horrendous that to do so would be gilding the lily, but also because Koreeda wants us to hold on to the hope that Akira and his siblings have that she will come back someday and make everything right again. That hope is what makes Nobody Knows so compellingly watchable even while it’s rushing toward inevitable tragedy.