Irresponsible Mom (You) scams her way into a no-young-kids-allowed apartment building by pretending that 12-year-old Akira (Yuuya Yagira) is her only child. Once inside, two other children, daughter Yuki (Momoko Shimizu) and son Shigeru (Heie Kimura) pop out of the suitcases in which they've been hiding. Another daughter, Kyoko (Ayu Kitaura), sneaks in later.
It's immediately clear that Mom is an absolute mess. We learn that the four children have four different fathers, none of the dads contributes anything, and all in all, Mom would rather be out having a good time. Akira has long been resigned to being the one who holds the family together by doing all the shopping and cooking and making sure the other kids stay out of sight. They never leave the house, not even to step out on the balcony, and none of them attends school. Strangely, disturbingly, the kids don't seem to sense anything terribly wrong with the situation, although once in a while they ask Mom why they can't go to school. She just giggles and asks who needs school anyway.
Mom's absences grow longer, and eventually she disappears for good and stops sending money. Akira tracks down some of the deadbeat dads, but they have only pocket change to spare. Ever resourceful, Akira struggles heroically and selflessly to keep things afloat, begging for discarded sushi from the local convenience store and making sure the rent is paid. But soon the gas goes, and then the lights, and then the water. Eventually the kids do leave the apartment but mainly to wash in a public park. As fall turns into winter, then into spring, and finally into summer, their situation begins to deteriorate horribly, but Akira won't go to the authorities because he knows to do so will mean breaking up the family.
Through it all little is said, and much of what we know we learn by looking into Akira's amazing eyes. Yagira is phenomenal (he won Best Actor at Cannes), and the fact that Kore-eda could elicit such a tour de force performance out of an untrained 12-year-old is remarkable. In fact, all the kids are excellent, and you have to wonder how Kore-eda did it. The shoot lasted long enough for Kore-eda to record physical changes as the kids grow. By the end of the movie, Akira's voice is changing, he's sporting just a touch of adolescent stubble on his upper lip, and his shoes no longer fit.
Kore-eda is a master of the small moment. His camera lingers on things like hands and feet. We can even track the passage of time by noticing how chipped Kyoko's nail polish is becoming. Yuki's favorite doll sports a handmade bracelet that matches that of the missing Mom, and the hyperkinetic Shigeru slows down only when he starts planting seeds in used instant ramen bowls. Over time we see the plants grow as the kids wither.
Some may flinch at the movie's 141-minute running time, but there's not a wasted moment. Though little is said, much is always happening, even if it's nothing more than a desperate tug on Akira's T-shirt by one of the little kids. Nobody Knows instantly takes its place at the top of the heap of "children in peril" movies, right alongside The Night of the Hunter, Lord of the Flies, and The 400 Blows. (Let's leave Home Alone out of the discussion.) Kore-eda and cast deserve three hearty "banzais" for a job beautifully done.
Aka Dare Mo Shiranai.
Nobody knows where my shoes are.
Run time: 141 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 21st October 2004
Box Office USA: $0.5M
Distributed by: IFC Films
Production compaines: Bandai Visual Company (JAPAN), Dare mo Shiranai Seisaku Iinkai, Engine Films, c-style
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Fresh: 86 Rotten: 6
IMDB: 8.1 / 10
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Producer: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Screenwriter: Hirokazu Kore-eda
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