Hidden Gem: Nobody Knows (2004)

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The cinema of Japan is one of the oldest and largest film industries in the world, with anime and horror seemingly being what Western audiences are drawn to the most. With such a vast and plentiful history, it’s easy to see some films go amiss amongst Western audiences.

One of those films is the 2004 drama film Dare mo Shiranai – translated as Nobody Knows. Directed by the influential Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda, Nobody Knows tells the tale of four children who are left alone by their mother for weeks, of whom eventually does not return; meaning that the children are forced to survive on their own. They were half-siblings – each having different fathers – aged between five and twelve years old.

The film is based on an event that occurred in 1988, referred to in the media as the “Affair of the four abandoned children of Sugamo”. The incident was covered extensively by Japanese and international media, with the children’s names never being released, therefore being referred to as Children A, B, C, and D, and E. Two of the children died as a result – Child C and E – one in the hands of Child A’s friends, and the other due to malnourishment.

Nobody Knows tells a less gruesome tale of what actually unfolded for the children that suffered from their mother’s abandonment. Koreeda presents a fictionalized version of the event, naming children A, B, D and E, with no mention of Child C. The police do not become involved, leaving the children to lead their underprivileged lives.

Koreeda wanted to take a different approach to the direction of Nobody Knows, giving something for the audience to take away from the film rather than create the stereotypical feel-good film that audiences in Japan are accustomed to. He spent over 15 years developing the screenplay, and spent long periods of time getting acquainted to the young cast members for them to be able to express themselves freely, with as little dictation from himself and other adults as possible. The film was also filmed chronologically, with the majority of the filming being set in the small apartment that the children are succumbed to living in.

Koreeda’s dedication for both the film and the cast members makes for an extremely naturalistic and sympathetic piece of cinema. The film competed for the Palme d’Or at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, with critics reaching the same conclusions, and also awarding Yuya Yagira the Best Actor award at the festival, making him the first Japanese actor to win the category at Cannes.

Nobody Knows (2004), directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, is available in the UK on DVD through Drakes Avenue. Certificate 12. 

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A film student stuck in a 90s timewarp of FBI agents, UFOs, conspiracy theories, alternative rock and grunge.

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