In 1988, an affair caught the attention of mainstream media in Japan - "The affair of four abandoned children of Tokyo". A mother left her four children in a small house where they had to fend for themselves for 6 months without anyone noticing anything, or more likely, noticing but not caring/daring enough to try and do something about it. In the end, one of the children - the youngest, only 2 years old - died in absolutely tragic circumstances (something I can't even bring myself to write here) and the world around them finally came to its senses and the affair became public. The mother came to know about the death of her daughter through the media and was sentenced 3 years in prison for her neglect.
It would have just remained a story you read in the paper, talk about with your family while having your breakfast and then forget about it had Hirokazu Kore-eda not decided to make a movie based on the event. Nobody Knows is a touching movie that moves you so much with its images that I doubt I'd be able to forget some of those images for a very long time. At the very least it was moving enough to shake me out of my non-blogging stupor. The great thing is that the movie doesn't use your usual melodrama (SLB, you need to see this one and learn something!!!) at all. In fact, if anything, it is shot more like a documentary. It doesn't "tell" you anything. Its almost as if a camera is kept close to the place these children stay at and you are watching their day-to-day activities, listening to their little seemingly meaningless, very cute, very kiddish talk. If anything, it actually brings a smile on your face on a lot of occasions. And yet, at the back of your mind, you know the whole tragedy of the situation. And THAT is what makes some of the scenes so difficult to watch. There is no violence, no overt sadness, not even a single tear and yet you would not want your children to watch the movie. In fact, its so good that at the end a part of you actually wishes that you hadn't seen it. The irony is that the real life story that inspired this movie was far more tragic than the story in the movie. Kore-eda actually tries to show you that the horrors that people imagine these children must've gone through needn't really be horrors at all. Things were probably much better than you think they were. One of the reasons for that is that children, by virtue of being ignorant of many things, are saved from feeling too much sadness at their own situation. They might not have enough to eat properly, but they still find little joys in picking up flowers from the park near their home or just laughing at little things among themselves.
The movie shows 4 children (a 11-12 year old boy, a girl of about 10 years, another boy of maybe 6-7 years and the youngest girl, of 5) move into a new house with their mother who herself is very childish. Maybe not childish, but she treats the children very well and is always nice to them and hasn't lost her sense of humour and adventure yet, which is not easy for a single mother working hard to bring up 4 children, 3 of whom aren't even registered with the authorities leading to infinite complications and irritations. However, she falls in love with a man and can't bring herself to tell him about her children at the beginning of the relationship. So, she leaves with him, hoping that she'd be able to tell him later. The eldest son Akira (played with stunning effect by Yuyi Yagira) is mature beyond his years because of all the responsibility he has to bear because of their situation and the mother trusts him to take care of his three siblings while she is away. She leaves some money but later we realize that she probably underestimates the children's needs. The movie doesn't really judge the mother or show her in as bad a light as the real life mother probably was in the media. She did what she had to do and probably made an error of judgement. A mistake with absolutely tragic consequences, but a mistake all the same. All the actors in the movie were great. The children were so lifelike, so real, that you really get the feeling of watching a documentary on their lives, of being in their home and just looking at them. Nothing feels like acting. Yuyi Yagira was just 12 when he finished shooting for the movie and one has to see the movie to believe how good he was. I was amazed but very happy when I came to know (while doing research for this post) that he won the Best Actor award at Cannes this year!!! Mind you, I am not talking about the best Child Actor or some such. Best Actor at Cannes at 14!! That must've been something!!
I don't know if the movie is distributed well enough for people in India to be able to get hold of a DVD, but in case you can, be warned that you might not like it because of the slow pace. The pace suits the subject perfectly and plays a big part in making you feel for the characters and making you forget that you are watching a movie. Also, be warned that it is NOT the kind of movie you'd want to watch when in the mood for a popcorn and movie night. But, watch it if you are not in principle againt slow movies. Watch it when you have some time to spend on a truely good movie, when you want to be "moved" or when you want to know what exactly did I mean when I said that I had some problems with Black. You can look at the movie's site here. It has a trailer on the main page. Or look at a better resolution trailer here.
Update: Adding the link to my post about Black here.