Dare mo Shiranai is a 2004 Japanese film based on the 1988 event known as the “Affair of the four abandoned children of Nishi-Sugamo”. Inspired from the headlines, this docu-drama is the reflection of those nightmares of parental neglect that tear as a plaintive neo-realist ode to childhood in this long-gestating project from writer-director Koreeda Hirokazu.
Dare mo Shiranai (Nobody knows’ is the English translation) is shot chronologically over the course of 12 months, with just one primary location – a tiny apartment and four non-professional child actors sharing the burden of the film’s focus, it’s an astounding technical achievement and a very non-conventional script for the children, the director purely illustrate these children’s lines naturally on them, set each morning and let them improvise. It’s a knacky way of sketchy storytelling, enthusiastic and reflecting modes, which you do not see other wise.
Quiet a grace with some lyrical and poignant moments, this is clearly a modern day classic as we understand it took Koreeda Hirokazu almost 15 years to envision the story. It’s difficult to predict about ones feeling on the narration, there is this plethora of feelings sprouting out of me as I play and re-play this film in my head. I know that it took me a while to get over it because of its heavy topics told in a very light manner. It’s really tough to get over it, especially when nobody knows the fate of these children now. Did I mention that this was based on a true story!!
In a simple way, director Koreeda effectively pushes us into thinking that this is a quirky happy tale from the very happy, humorous, unique introduction to the film, of the children hiding in suitcases through their journey to their new homes. And not to mention, the children are all beautiful in very wholesome ways. And therefore when the climatic event occurred, we are all gasping to understand why a mother would do such a thing to her beautiful children.
The story begins in the small apartment of Tokyo- the four siblings and their young mother who move into a rented apartment. Only the eldest, Akira is known to the landlord, while Shigeru and Yuki hide in separate luggage. The elder sister, Kyoko, comes separately by train. All the children have different fathers. They are not allowed to go to school or to be seen by others, and only Akira is allowed to go outside. Yet, the family seems to be happy.
The turn of events begin to change when their mother leaves home for a few months, leaving only a small amount of money for them. Then, Akira’s rank in the family shifts overnight and he becomes the surrogate head of the family. They hardly manage to scrape through life, with Akira having to ask money from Yuki’s possible fathers. Coincidentally, their mother soon returns with gifts for the children. Though, their mother is not back for long. She tells Akira that she has a new boyfriend, and that after she gets married, the children can lead normal lives. She then leaves again, with the promise that she will be back for Christmas. She does not keep her promise, and Akira and Kyoko have to play the role of parents. Akira soon finds out that she has already married and left them forever, though he does not tell the rest. Money soon becomes short, and they cannot afford to pay their rent. Their meals consist of instant cup noodles brought from the local mini-mart. On Yuki’s birthday, she asks to go to the train to wait for their mother. Her mother does not appear, but on the way back, Akira promises Yuki that one day, he will bring her to the Tokyo Monorail to see the airplanes take off at Haneda Airport.
Akira soon befriends two video-game loving boys who are his age. They frequently come to Akira’s house to play video games, and Akira starts to neglect his siblings. Their ties become strained. Later, the two boys bring Akira to the mini-mart and dare him to shoplift. Akira refuses to do so and the two boys leave him. After that, Akira lets his siblings go outside and play at a park nearby. He also lets them visit the mini-mart and buy things they like.
The season changes as the winter turns to spring, the bills have piled up and the electric, gas, and phone are turned off. Therefore, they have to make use of the local park’s public toilet to wash themselves, and the tap for their water. It is on one of these trips that Shigeru starts a conversation with a high school student, Saki, and this soon blossoms into a friendship between all of them. Saki frequently visits them and helps take care of them. However, when she offers to earn money to give to them by visiting a Karaoke lounge with a man, Akira distances himself from her, rejects the money she offers, and runs home.
Summer approaches, and money remains very tight. Suddenly, Yuki falls off a stool while trying to reach for something and dies. At that time, we see Akira playing baseball. The children are shocked, and Akira has to go find Saki to borrow money. Akira uses this money to buy a lot of chocolate candies, and places it into the suitcase with Yuki’s dead body and favorite stuffed bunny. Akira and Saki then take the Tokyo Monorail to an open field near Haneda Airport’s runway and bury the suitcase containing Yuki in a hand-dug grave. The children’s life then goes on as usual, and the film ends when the children (Akira, Saki, Kyoko, and Shigeru) walk home.
Watching this movie reminds us upon our waking up dream- the sense of melancholic stillness, the nowhere children, the unknown clamor, the future drift and the survival in the midst of daily existence, those agonizing pain we buy in these nature around us through the times we live-in is a hard exclusion which never ever acknowledged. So well apparent throw away of the cultures defaced on our placid surface and so do the future!!!
- Produced and Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda
- Written by Hirokazu Koreeda
- Starring: Yūya Yagira, Ayu Kitaura, Hiei Kimura
- Music by Gontiti, Takako Tate
- Cinematography: Yutaka Yamasaki
- Production company: Cinequanon and Bandai Visual
- Distributed by Cinequanon, IFC Films (USA)
- Release date: May 12, 2004 (Cannes)
- Run time of 141 minutes
- Country: Japan
- Language: Japanese