Nobody Knows (2004) Poster


User Reviews

Add a Review
99 ReviewsOrdered By: Helpfulness
Simply yet impressively filmed story based on a real-life drama
Davor Blazevic23 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Acclaimed movie Dare mo shiranai (Nobody Knows, 2004) and related featurettes on the DVD from my Tokyo acquisition earlier this year, easily proved to be well worthy of my prolonged attention.

Though slow-moving and long (almost 2.5 hours), one never gets bored watching four kids (in the movie of the age of 4, 6, 10 and 12 years) trying to survive on their own. Kids are kawaii (cute) and their performances touching, while bringing to life a bittersweet story of abandoned children. Trying to avoid attention from authorities and subsequent institutionalisation or imposed guardianship, inevitably leading to their separation, they are concealing the fact from their landlords and neighbours, continuing to live alone and thus staying together, sadly, with an almost unsurprisingly tragic outcome.

Indeed a powerful story, based on real events. Unfortunately, as found on the free on-line encyclopedia page, actual events, taking place in 1988 in Tokyo's Toshima-ku (ward), thoroughly described in "The affair of the four abandoned children of Sugamo" depiction of the incident, have been even far more gruesome. Well deserved rating 9 out of 10.
75 out of 77 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Children can not choose their parents
Furuya Shiro11 September 2004
"Children can not choose their parents" This was what came into my mind after I saw this movie.

This movie is based on actual incident happened in 1988. It was much more miserable than the movie. A woman was living with a man. She thought he had filed the marriage notification. When their son was born, the man said he had filed the birth notification. One day he left her to live with another woman. When the boy reached the primary school age, she knew neither the marriage notification nor the birth notification were filed. Facing this situation, she decided to hide her children from the society. (According to another source, the mother told the police that she thought the birth notification of a bastard child would not be accepted.)

She had met several men and had 5 children, two boys and three girls, who were not registered and hidden from other people. When the second boy died of sick, she hid the corps in the closet. While she works in a department store, the eldest son took care of three sisters. When the eldest son was 14, she went out to live with her new man, who was 16 years older than her. She gave the eldest son her address. When the children were protected by the police half a year later, a girl was dead, and the two were debilitated, as they were confined in a room and poorly fed. The girls were 3 and 2 y/o and still used diapers, but they were changed only once every day. It is reported that the eldest boy blamed himself for not being able to take good care of his sisters, instead of blaming his mother...

Compared to the real story, the movie is less miserable. In the movie, even the little boy and girl look normal and pretty, but in the real story they were very poorly developed. But it was still more than enough to surprise me. What a mother! In a conversation with the eldest boy, she says "May I not become happy?" She acts on this thought, without thinking of the same right about her children. Her childish lisping talk describes her immaturity. And of course, men were more guilty. Sadly, children can not choose their parents.

Every child acted amazingly well, very natural. Particularly, the eyes of the eldest boy, Akira, are very impressive. The eyes tell many things from their miserable life.
216 out of 234 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A compelling portrait of the world of abandoned children
Chris Knipp6 March 2005
"Nobody Knows" is painful to watch. It's a story you won't shake off, depicting the most defenseless of humans -- four young children, the oldest only twelve -- trapped in growing poverty and abandonment. It's a process-narrative of devolution that makes you feel helpless and angry and sad. It's saved from mawkishness by the natural energy of the children playing the roles of the four kids. And if it survives, its not because of its treatment of a social issue so much as for its evocation of the precise details of childhood.

There are two main subjects here. One is criminal neglect: the story is loosely based on events that happened in Tokyo in 1988. The other is the private, often secret, lives of children. Koreeda began as a documentary filmmaker and this seems to have given him exceptional skill in working with people and capturing their natural reactions. The winning, tragic children in "Nobody Knows," four half-siblings with different fathers and the same childish, selfish mother, never seem to be acting and often no doubt aren't. Nonetheless the subtlety of expression in the delicate, mobile, beautiful face of the older boy, young Yûya Yagira, was such that it won him the Best Actor award at Cannes last year.

Also important is Koreeda's gift for detail, his meditative examinations of fingernails, feet, a toy piano, video games, pieces of paper, objects strewn around a room, the hundreds of little soft drink bottles that are everywhere in Japan, plants, dirt, all the small things children see because they're closer to the ground. And the things they accept because they're defenseless and innocent, but also incredibly adaptable.

Akira, who's only ten and whose voice changed during year spent making the movie, is in charge. As their mother's absences become lengthier and the children finally seem to be abandoned for good, money runs out. Akira is captain of a sinking ship, a somber duty, but he and his little sisters and brother keep finding time to laugh and play.

Koreeda's a passionately serious filmmaker: the two better known of his earlier fiction films deal with death and loss and here he considers as a given the worst of human carelessness and indifference both by society and the individual. "Maborosi" (1995) was a homage to Ozu but without Ozu's sense of social connectedness; it begins with an isolated couple in the city and chronicles a young widow's second marriage in the country through a slow pastiche of observed daily scenes where event and even dialogue are minimal concerns. The content of "Maborosi" is too thin, but the images and color are exquisite and the sequences of natural, unrehearsed-looking scenes achieve an impressively rich, beautiful, zen-like calm. "After Life" (1998) uses actual recollections of older people talking to the camera to build up a fantasy about dead souls held temporarily in a bureaucratic pre-Heaven limbo being asked to choose a single favorite memory to take with them into eternity: the effect is perplexing, thought-provoking, charming, and with great economy of means, cinematic.

"Nobody Knows" isn't as brilliant or resolved as "After Life" or as exquisitely visual as "Maborosi," but for all its rambling excessive length it delivers a quantity of undigested patient misery and joy that will evoke such noble antecedents from the classic world of cinematic humanism as Clément's "Forbidden Games," De Sica's "Bicycle Thief," and the homeless father and son living on garbage in Kurosawa's Do-des-ka-den.

What's new here though is a sense of the encompassing otherness of big modern cities and the stoicism and resiliency of childhood (and perhaps also of the Japanese personality). Keiko, the childish, weak, spoiled mother (played effectively -- we instantly hate her -- by You, who's some sort of pop star in Japan), sneaks three of her four children into the new apartment and tells them they can't go out, can't show themselves even on the balcony. (In the real event, this was largely because they were illegitimate and had no papers, but here the explanation is that their noise may get them evicted.) Only Akira can leave, and she won't let him or the others go to school. They're prisoners of their urban anonymity and of an impersonal contemporary society.

As in Andrew Berkin's "Cement Garden," the children also pretend everything's okay to escape the cruelty of the social welfare system. We watch agonizingly -- and many writers say the movie's somewhat too long; it does feel thus especially during the first hour -- but this time Koreeda's world is more direct and specific than before and there's plenty of talk. The children chatter among themselves. Eventually they go out and mix a bit by day with other children. Akira even talks to himself; he has to, because there's no adult coaching him so he must impersonate an elder adviser.

Whatever its roughness and excess, "Nobody Knows" is intense and powerful film-making. Koreeda has put his whole heart and soul into this movie and with it achieves an experience you can't shrug off. Nor will you forget the kids, especially the beautiful boy, Yûya Yagira, who may be growing inch by inch into a star even as we speak.
106 out of 117 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
a film with immense humanity
trngo27 March 2005
It has been a while since I saw a film with this much humanity. That is, until I saw acclaimed Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda's latest, Nobody Knows, about a quartet of siblings left to fend for themselves.

It's heartbreaking, just thinking about some of these random moments subtly displayed on screen. The look on an adolescent girl's face when her mom paints her nails. A little boy making silly faces in the mirror. A little girl's scribbling of stick people on a gas bill that has been months overdue... I can go on.

I wish I can put into words, or convey in some sort of way, the flowing of rampant emotions experienced when I saw these images: about how much it hit so close to home, how much it reminded me of my own family. But I can't. I guess it simply cannot be articulated in such a concise, simplified manner.

You'll just have to see it for yourself.
74 out of 84 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A deeply moving film
YNOTswim16 February 2005
Today I went to the pre-screening of "Nobody Knows," a stunningly brilliant film by director Hirokazu Koreeda who also directed the philosophical "After Life."

What if I were a 12 years old boy and left alone to take care of two younger sisters and one younger brother in a big city like Tokyo, and I have to hide them in the apartment so nobody knows about them? That's what I have been thinking when I was watching this film and how the film gets my sympathy for these children. It allows me to experience the ordeal through these children's eyes and the transcending performance by Yuya Yagira, who is the youngest actor ever won the best actor award in the history of Cannes Film Festival.

Director Koreeda allows the camera to take the time to shoot and he never rushes from one scene to the next. He let me observe, let me feel, let me be as close to these children as I possibly can, until I can no longer take it and until I am drowned by the frustration and sadness. I become as helpless as those children, because I simply can not resist the urge to help them. That makes me cry. Through out the film, Koreeda masterfully positioned his lenses to ordinary objects around these children, such as simply a finger, a hand, a stain, a foot, or four empty glasses. But through these zoomed in images, I have no trouble to "see" and "feel" what's going on in the whole picture. And it tells the story in a more profound fashion and more personal way, a story you will never forget, along with those images, sometimes, even the music.

The 12 years old boy is played by Yuya Yagira, who has a haircut like the Japanese animation character. Yagira's outstanding performance is original and remarkable, and simply unforgettable. Through him, you see a premature 12 years old boy who is acting as an adult to take care the other kids, meanwhile, he is still a 12 years old kid, who will just like other kids around his age. That's make this movie can be so hard to watch sometimes, because no matter how hard your heart is, it will be softened by watching his struggle to survive. It's hard to leave this movie with dry eyes.

There is no doubt in my mind that this is the best film I have seen this year.
55 out of 62 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A beautiful movie, one of the best in 2004...
catherine_lee_green3 January 2005
This film is beautiful in its is at times sweet, warm, funny and always is essentially about four children surviving on their own after their mother leaves them in search of her own happiness....

The show seemingly lacks any action or any exciting moments, but i was totally absorbed during the two plus hours of the film...this is largely because of the superb performances of the adorable children, who were all really natural and likable. You just feel for them and wonder at the callousness of their mother and respective fathers. The dialogue is simple yet meaningful and through the day-to-day unraveling of the plot, one sees the contrast between the courage, maturity and innocence of children, and the selfishness and childishness of adults. The realist, documentary style of filming allows viewers to see things from the eye of the children...

a great film that will make u feel rather depressed at the end of it...not for those who do not like slowly-paced films with not much action.
63 out of 72 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Getting into the child's mind
Harry T. Yung25 October 2004
Warning: Spoilers

Like 99.99% (or some such number) of the audience, I am no child psychologist (or any sort of psychologist, for that matter), but it just occurs to me that we won't fully appreciate Nobody Knows unless we cleanse ourselves of our adult mentality and try to get into the child's mind. We do get some help, with the POV shots at low levels, as the kids do spend a lot of time on the floor in the apartment which is both their home and their prison.

Let me back up a little. A still relatively young mother, whose mental capacity is probably not that much more than that of a child, had four children with four different men. Renting an apartment together with her oldest, 12-year-old son, the only one of the four that she can reveal to the world at large, she smuggles the other three into this new 'home'. Leaving her children with no schooling at all, she goes away for weeks to pursue her own life, leaving Akira (Yagira Yuya) to look after his siblings. Her absence soon becomes perpetual, as the children can barely survive on the money she sends very occasionally.

Such then, is the 'story', if it can be called one. But then, it is a true story, and what we see is close to being a documentary. Director Hirokazu explains clearly with the opening credit, however, that while the events are true, the characters of the children are created for the film. By helping us get into the world of these children, Director Hirokazu makes the film less gloomy than the actual events, at least during the first half of it.

The two little ones are too young to worry about survival or truly comprehend sorrow. Shigeru (Kimura Hiei) is a little guy with insuppressible spirit and insatiable curiosity. Yuki (Shimuzu Momoko) is the most adorable little girl there is. In their child's world, they quietly accept being barely at the fringe of survival, such as having to wash in public fountains when water supply at the apartment has been cut off. What is most heartbreaking is watching Akiru's younger (slightly) sister Kyoko (Kitaura Ayu). While the little kids are 'smuggled' into the apartment in the luggage, Kyoko travels by herself in a train, to be met by Akiru at night. The first thing she asks her brother is the location of the washing machine, because washing is apparently the family duty assigned to her and she is worried that if the washing machine in out on the balcony, she will not be able to discharge her responsibility without being spotted by neighbors. Duty-conscious and extremely good-natured, her dispositions are almost angelic. But she also has all the dreams of a pre-adolescent girl. She tries on her mother's nail polish and, idling at the small toy piano, dreams of the day when she will have her own piano. And yet, at the very first family (that is, the four kids') financial trouble, she contributes all the money she's been saving for that very purpose.

It's 14-year-old Yagira Yuya, playing 12-year-old Akira, that won the best actors award at Cannes, beating strong contenders in Hong Kong's 2046 and Korea's Old Boy. Akira is a pre-adolescent boy growing towards adolescence under the enormous burden of looking after the family in a continuously deteriorating financial situation. He hides a lot within himself as he toughs his way through vicissitudes, but the child in him is not totally lost. He lets go at one point, allowing himself to be indulged in video games and baseball. His tantalizing adolescent yearning is brought out in an unusual friendship with rebellious rich schoolgirl Saki (Kan Hanae) who later becomes part of the 'family'. The final trail is a tragic incident for which he must be blaming himself on his temporary absence. Such is the range of emotions that Yuya had to handle, and his Cannes award is well deserved.

The film starts not without light, happy moments, particularly as seen through the child's eye in the audience. As the situation gets from bad to worse, Director Hirokazu does not drag us through wails and screams, as a lesser one would. He doesn't even give that much dialogue. Through the two hours of the film he simply bleeds our hearts with images of these children whom we have come to really care for, and goes on to bleed them some more.
36 out of 41 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Absolutely Astounding!
s_cadzow15 April 2006
There are very few films I have seen that had the power to affect me as deeply as Nobody Knows. As highly as I recommend it, I must also forewarn, that this film has power, some very serious power. To call Hirokazu Koreeda's Nobody Knows anything less than a masterpiece would be an insult to the story it tells. The craftsmanship we witness here, from the masterful direction to the outstanding performances that the children were able to commit to, are all something of incredible proportions.

Nobody Knows, which is a true story, tells of four siblings, ages 5-12, from different fathers, who live in a small apartment in Tokyo. At first, they live in the apartment with their childish Mother who is hardly ever home. With the exception of the oldest, Akira, the mother snuck the children in to keep the rent lower and prohibits them from ever leaving the apartment, even the veranda, for fear of them being seen. The children do not go to school. As they look after each other, all they do is patiently and affectionately wait for their mother to come home.

As the story progresses, the children wake up one morning to some money on the kitchen table with a note from their mother saying that she'll be home in a month. As Akira steps up and takes charge of the apartment, the bills, and his siblings, the children still hold hope that mother will be home soon. And then, Nobody Knows hits you like a truck and goes right through you. Complete Abandonment. The smiles diminish and the childish affection for a mother that will never return is gone. Gone to play mother to another family, it is now entirely up to Akira, with money running out.

Koreeda's direction of the children is exceptional, as if the film was shot entirely candid. The camera-work is sincere, as if we were one of the children stuck in that apartment. There are no gimmicks here, no slide of hand, or post-production miracles. Nobody Knows is raw, and thrives in Koreeda's ability to capture the distinct personalities of all four siblings, their hopes, and those secretive moments where Koreeda directs the children not for the stories sake, but for the sake of the children being children.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Nobody Knows is the performances of the four children. All four children, who conjured phenomenal performances, were played by Japanese youths with no film backgrounds. After you see the film, it is likely that Koreeda preferred it this way, tapping into the honesty and energy that such youth had to offer. Their performances are so sincere and beautiful that on several occasions the tears will start to fall, the goose bumps will rise, and your heart will undoubtedly cry out to rescue these children, to grab them in your arms and set them free.

Without giving too much away, one of the most touching scenes to me, is on Yuki's birthday, the only thing she wants is to be able to go outside for a walk with her big brother Akira. So when the night comes, she puts on her little bear slippers, an ear to ear smile on her face, and with her hand in her brothers hand, they set her heart free for if not only a night.

Nobody Knows is a film that I will never let go of. This film impacted me so much and I found it so absolutely remarkable, that it hasn't left my mind since it's viewing. I almost feel that recommending this film just isn't enough, and all I can say is that I hope everyone gets the chance to enjoy this film for all that it is worth. As sure as it is to invoke emotion, it is as sure to please as a piece of cinema.
33 out of 38 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
every little details we neglected
kaichern tee7 May 2005
If your local art theater plays it, go watch it. Find it in DVD store if you can. Rent it through your local mega movie renting store if you have to. Everyone has to watch this movie.

As a highly urbanized country, Japan is subjected to constant social problem, more so than other developed country. Hence, often you will have your Japanese movies that reminds us these problems, Tokyo Godfather, Fireworks, etc.

Nobody Knows is one of them from another angle.

Its director likes to use close up on little details like finger nails, shoes, t-shirt collar to tell the audience what kind of situation it is for the victims in the movie. Often we neglect these little details; often we neglect the unfortunate people around us.

Once in a while we have a world disaster, we all jumped in, we all gave our helping hands, we all praised greatly how much help we gave on TV. Comparing and contrast the figures of aids given with other countries, even. Little things, little unfortunate things happened around us, everyday, everywhere, they are all nicely tucked under our lavish mat and those story never told, those needed aid never arrived. Because they have no news value or because helping a few people doesn't gain enough prestige?

Nobody knows, as the title suggest, We never aware of these problems, by our own choice or not. The movie has an unusual slow pace. There is no climax, everything just get worse. Just the those misfortune people nobody knows, their life are not full of excitement, everyday is another to get by, nothing to wish for, nothing to hope for. Nobody Knows depicts the days of these unsounded misfortune. You could have seen the unfortunate events to come. You would have wished they would not come. One by one they came.

The brilliant part, Nobody Knows lets its audiences decide the ending.
39 out of 46 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Kore-eda does it again. A wonderful, detailed, intense, coming of age story.
photonate8 September 2004
This film was very well received at the latest Telluride Film Festival where I saw it. Based on a true incident it is the story of 4 children,each a child by a different father, abandoned by their mother, and trying to survive in modern Japan on their own. The film is paced wonderfully slow, allowing the viewer to focus on small details that overlay other details. It does not drag at all and has moments of humor mixed with pathos.

The oldest, a son of about 13 or 14, incredibly acted, becomes the parent. He is in transition from becoming the responsible one of the family and a typical kid, but one with real values.

There are moments where a box of tissues are in order. The film ends in a moment of hope mixed with a real desire to know what ultimately happened to them all.
30 out of 38 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews