Nobody Knows (Dare mo shiranai) Hirokazu Kore-eda (2004; Japan) Yuya Yagira, Ayu Kitora
viewed Tyneside Cinema 5 May 2019; ticket: £10.75
Haircuts just about sums up ‘Nobody Knows’ in which Hirukazu Kore-eda as both writer and director, shows that at this point in his career he knows how to set up the superficial externalities of a scenario. ‘Nobody Knows’ is light-weight TV style drama, that takes as its theme the notion of abandonment but what is missing is any idea of how to kindle the relations endemic in the situation so that Kore-eda can develop his film beyond the manipulation of his child actors.
Hirokazu Kore-eda has recently gained acclaim for his 2018 movie ‘Shoplifters’. It seemed appropriate to have a look at his earlier movies amongst which is ‘Nobody Knows’. ‘Shoplifters’ shares many situational aspects with ‘Nobody Knows’. ‘Shoplifters’ is located in an ‘any space whatever’, an interstitial urban zone and set on the margins of society. This situation is developed through the scripted tensions expressed between the way of life of the ‘enclosed’ shoplifting family and wider society. Also as ‘Shoplifters’ details the family’s ‘absorption’ into its bosom of waifs, wandering children, without bothering with legal niceties there is a creative dynamic between the world of the children and the worlds of the adults. The possibilities within the situation were exploited, in quasi narrative form, so that relations set up in the script changed and intensified, intertwining and feeding back as the film progressed.
By way of contrast in ‘Nobody Knows’ the situation of the abandoned child remains a comparitively undeveloped idea. As in ‘Shoplifters’ the locational parameters of Tokyo’s ‘any space whatever’ (in this case nondescript low rise low rent apartment blocks) are established, as is the notion of a family milieu. But, unlike ‘Shoplifters’ after establishing these elements, Kore-eda by-passes the relational and psychic aspects attendent on abandonment.
Kore-eda’s script observes. We see Akida befriend schoolboys of his own age, we see him contact his mother’s ex’s and join in a school baseball game. But these scenes are played out as inconsequentialities, even the death of the little girl leaves only a faint mark on the film’s bland exterior. Instead of a script that probes the possibilities in the situation: the relations between the children, the relations between the family and the outside world, the relations between adults and children, Kore-eda’s movie meanders through time and across space following the main child protagonist Akira as he copes with coping. What we understand is that although the living conditions deteriorate, psychically everything is fine. All the children get on with each other, even when dead.
Nothing happens in any relational sense tying the children to other forces outside themselves. We see in ‘Nobody Knows’ that the state of the apartment slowly goes down hill as utilities are cut off for unpaid bills, and the children in particular Akira try to handle the mess. Kore-eda might reply this is what really happened (Nobody knows is ‘inspired’ by a true story – whatever that means). But this mechanical rendering of the situation leaves a void at the heart of the film, the lack of any probing into the dynamics of children’s relations to each other. This abrogation of the children’s psychic and emotional zones leaves a void, a hole at the centre of Kore-eda’s script. Kore-eda might say he observes but for the most part what he observes is that children are rather cute.
In place of probing into about the state of children left in their own world (perhaps Kere-eda perceives nothing) Kore-eda has a series of cute exploitative images of children to offer the viewer: Chocolate box cinema. ‘Nobody Knows’ feels like an offering to the average septuagenarian Japanese viewer bereft of grandchildren due to an aversion to sexual relations in the Japanese child rearing population.
Instead of development, Kore-eda uses gimmicks. ‘Nobody Knows’ is continually intercut with shots of little feet. These shots inserted with ever greater predictability into the film encapsulate the film’s poverty of expression. These shots, perhaps intended to express a sense of the vulnerability of the child, in repetition simply pander to conventional advertising imagery and the audiences’ desire for children to rendered as a consumerist product. And the beautifully stylised haircuts of the children serve the same end, to make for easy viewing.
Kore-eda also seems to have understood that location and setting are significant features of film. But at this stage of his career, in ‘Nobody Knows’ he has not understood that in themselves they are not enough to make a movie. So we have a film comprising settings and the locations: the steps, the canal, the street, the store, the interior and exterior of the apartment. Shots that are repeated throughout the film, as little more than backdrops with little relational significance.
A coherent time frame is absent from ‘Nobody Knows’. The film avoids giving the audience any real sense of the time passing. It is not possible to know the length of time for which the children were abandoned. However judging by the perfectly styled and sculpted and unchanging cut of Akira’s hair, Kore-eda is not interested in the passage of time, he is more interested in a frozen image, a non dynamic holding the film together. His time image is static, and his response to ‘time’ is not to fill it in, but to fill it out. Like the haircuts in Nobody Knows, Kore-eda doesn’t signify time, he defies it. .