Nobody Knows is a profoundly moving film that doesn’t need flashy action or CGI effects to achieve significant emotional impact. The story begins when Keiko deserts her young children in a run-down apartment with barely enough money to pay the bills. Her oldest son Akira must fend for himself and protect his younger brother and his two sisters. Akira tries his best to be a parent, borrowing money from dishonest family acquaintances, buying Christmas gifts for his siblings and relying on new friends. Although their family life is quite abnormal, the four children do not resent their mother.
The charm of Nobody Knows rests on the shoulders of its characters. I think they do a superb job and the film itself is a devastating critique of contemporary Japanese society. The only music in this film is a few notes form a toy piano and quiet harp music that enhances the feeling of isolation of the children. There is no ending depicted, just continuum. The ending is incomplete, yes. We never know whether their mother comes back, or whether social services step in at any point. The lack of resolution is mildly annoying, but nothing too bothersome.
Rarely does a movie move me emotionally and visually to the point where pictures of it linger in my head for many days after. Casual human indifference to the plight of others is one of the horror stories in modern urban life. This film really opened my eyes. In today’s movie world, that is an exception, and a real treat.
The one reason that makes this film so great is it truly balances the good and bad events that make the experience all the more real. It never sugar coats the terrible portions, but despite how low times go for the children it depicts their spirit of survival. It is not a sentimental movie. Yet it has sentiment in it and so much honesty that it hurts to watch. I highly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys realistic films that express important aspects of life as people grow up and move onwards. Although watching Nobody Knows is painful, a careful viewing will allow you take in all that it has to offer.