—About this Film
Nobody Knows shows us four children, each with a different father (all of whom are absent.) Not long after they move into a new apartment, their mother abandons them as well. If this were a Hallmark film or an After School Special, we would see the children conquer their problems and find a sense of family that transcends what their parents could have given them. But what would it really be like?
In 1988 such an incident did take place in Tokyo. The children were undetected for six months. Filmmaker Koreeda Hirokazu gives us a fictionalized account inspired by that incident. His treatment of the story and the performances he draws out of non-professional actors make this an absorbing film.
We begin by seeing their mother smuggle them into the new apartment she is renting, but children are frowned upon here, so she only tells the landlord about the oldest, Akira. The two smaller children are brought in inside suitcases in which they have been traveling. The oldest daughter waits elsewhere until her brother comes to bring her home while no one is watching.
Their mother is more childish than the children. Before long, she leaves some money and a note to Akira to take care of the others until she comes back. It’s no spoiler to say she leaves forever.
The children make do as best they can, but they really are not prepared for life alone. They don’t have the resources to maintain their apartment. They have to rely on handouts of food. They carry water from a nearby park.
They survive. They care for one another. But they are ill-equipped for the life that they are forced to live. They have neither the emotional or financial resources to get by and thrive. Danger is at hand, and the viewer knows that eventually something terrible will
Through the whole ordeal, nobody knew anything of these children. They had fallen through the cracks of societal care. They only had brief encounters with any adults, and even then the contacts were not opportunities to know how these children were living.
This is a story of abandonment and abuse. Primarily, the mother (and to some extent, the absent fathers) are guilty of gross neglect. But I believe we are also to understand that it is not enough just to blame them. There is also society’s responsibility to take care of those with no one else to care for them. Such an event as this is a rarity, and yet, there are still many homeless children and families in our midst. We have programs to care for them and to educate them. Are they adequate? I don’t know. Some will always be missed, and in being missed will lose out on some of the great possibilities that could be opened to them. Perhaps when that happens we are not to blame. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re blameless.