Looking at other reviews and ratings of Nobody Knows makes me realize that I must have viewed this film through an entirely different lens. I thought the film was interesting and would recommend it, but still do not understand the accolades (Roger Ebert has it at 3.5/4 while IMDb shows 8.1/10).
Nobody Knows sanitizes actual events that occurred in Tokyo in the late 1980s. The story depicts the courage and survival of four children left abandoned by their mother in a Tokyo apartment. The oldest son, depicted as two years younger in the film, takes charge of his siblings and manages the daily affairs as their strict order eventually collapses into chaos. The film euphamizes severe aspects of the case, ignoring the death of one child and making the death of another child an accident, when it was actually a murder. I can live with the liberties taken with the film and found the story compelling nonetheless
The cinematography under the direction of Hirokazu Koreeda was crisp. The imagery was well framed and the mood adequately captured on film. The story is attributed to Koreeda, although I believe that he actually read several scripts over a fifteen year period before producing this film. Koreeda does a good job with the cinematic qualities, but I found the dialogue and pacing to be weak in comparison.
In terms of writing, I can live with changing key facts in a true story for impact. However, in the case of Nobody Knows, I would suggest some of the impact was lost by changing the story. It would seem that the two deaths combined with the fact that one was a murder would have added some intensity. I think their may have been lost opportunities at deep drama and character interaction if that path had been followed (the murder was a "friend" of the oldest boy who assumes responsibility for his siblings). The dialogue was also sort of hackneyed at times...with mention of the cold weather being one particular hang-up that was repeated often. The characters were moderately well developed. The oldest boy, Akira (Yuya Yagira), was the most thoroughly developed and therefore the most engaging. The mother had brief screen time but a lot of depth was infused into her character during the brief scenes. The writing had strong points, with the dialogue being the biggest drawback for me.
Yagira was excellent. The young man is required to carry this film and does a good job with it. I have seen adult actors struggle to carry the lead role. Yagira does it and make it appear effortless. That may also be a tribute to Koreeda's directing. The young actors and actresses are placed into a position of creating the slow dissolution of order accompanied by a growing detachment of their characters, which was carefully plotted out in the script. Like most films, I would imagine Nobody Knows was filmed by scene, not necessarily in order. The children do an excellent job of maintaining the illusion of continuity in the film. That was essential to creating the feel of gradual decay of order. The acting was another bright spot in this film.
I was honestly a bit disappointed in Nobody Knows. Reading the synopsis, it appeared to me that this would be a five star film. It never measured up to my expectations. Although the actors were excellent and the cinematography brilliant, the pacing was painfully slow. This film is long, running nearly two and a half hours. A skilled Director could easily have scaled this film back to two hours. The slow pacing was augmented by tepid dialogue that I was not impressed with. It also seemed like the script short-changed the true story, missing the incredibly dynamic events in the story that could have made this film exceptional. As it stands, I found Nobody Knows to be slightly above average. 6.5/10.
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