Nobody Knows (誰も知らない) (2004)
This review is a few weeks late, but in my film and Japanese culture class we watched "Nobody Knows" (Daremo Shiranai). The film is based on a very publicized and rather horrific incident of child neglect and abandonment that occurred in Japan in the late 1980s. The gist of it is that a mother of four children, aged between five and twelve years old, hides the children in an apartment and then leaves them to fend for themselves, giving the twelve-year old some money to last them until she returns. But she doesn't return and the situation gradually deteriorates until one child is dead and the others are malnourished and have an uncertain future.
What makes this movie interesting is how unique the cinematography is. It's less like a normal movie that has a plot with a climax, ending, and obvious progression and more like a documentary following the daily lives of the children, particularly that of the oldest son, Akira, the only one allowed to leave the apartment. Much of the movie is filled with repetitive scenes of Akira's daily activities, often with dull colors, little dialogue, and no music. Watching it does not feel like watching a movie, but like actually living Akira's life. But for such a depressing premise, the reality is that Akira (and thus, you the viewer) is rather emotionally numb to the situation and goes about his life in a zombie-like state, doing what has to be done to keep him and his siblings alive. Occasional moments of emotion where Akira is able to act like a kid again are brought to life with colors and music, though these events are few and far between and quickly fade back into the grays of daily life. The intentional lack of emotion in this film is very unique and is done expertly, but as such it is also a chore to watch. By then end, the viewer is left unsatisfied, uneasy, and with lingering feelings for which the director did not give any sort of cathartic outlet.
It was interesting to see a movie so well made and so unique and yet not enjoyable, even in the sense that sad movies can be enjoyable. It simply was. Its purpose seemed to be to inform people that cases of child neglect like this exist and does so by making the story into a normal-looking, everyday life sort of story, communicating that this was not a one-time extraordinary event. That is the movie's one goal and it does it very well, but if you are already aware of the existence of child neglect, I can safely say that there is no need for you to watch this movie. Sad movies can be enjoyable, but Nobody Knows is just uncomfortably numb.