A review of “Nobody Knows” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: PG-13 for adult situations

Run Time: 2 hours, 18 minutes

 

 

This spare, sensationalist Japanese drama based on a true story is lifted straight from the front pages and reworked into an adult’s worst nightmare.

 Domestic horror rears its ugly head by chronicling the lives of four children abandoned by their mother for six long months before someone takes notice.  Keiko (Japanese pop star You) moves her makeshift family – each child fathered by a different man -- into a tiny Tokyo apartment by smuggling in the youngest folded into suitcases.  The children fend for themselves as the hopelessly flighty Keiko leaves for “work”, often disappearing for days on end.

Until the fateful day that Keiko vanishes completely, leaving only a short note and some cash for incidentals.  The burden of responsibility falls to 12-year old Akira (Yuya Yagira), a sensible youngster who struggles to care for his brother and sisters and adhere to his mother’s strict rules despite her cruel indifference.

The isolation takes its toll, as does Akira’s inability to properly provide for his siblings. His pluck and quiet determination is as courageous as it is heartbreaking. When tragedy ultimately strikes its painful and unforgiving.

Director Hirokazu Kore-eda works magic with the harrowing and claustrophobic atmosphere of poverty and need. His gifted troupe of child actors (Yagira took Best Actor honors at Cannes) improvised many of their scenes, lending their situation genuine emotion and despair.  Long running time subtly detracts from the powerful impact but this haunting import is an indisputable winner.