Nobody Knows ~ Japan, 2004 ~ Netflix

The story shown here is based on true events that were a sensational scandal in Japan. Young, single mother Keiko moves into a small flat in Tokyo with her 12-year old son Akira. When they unpack though, there are two more children in suitcases, 12-year old Shigeru and 4-year old Yuki. Wait there’s one more: 10-year old Kyoko, too tall and lanky to fit in a suitcase is waiting around the corner and they sneak her in. These are all children from different fathers.

Keiko lays down the ground rules (it sounds like they’ve been here before): Keep it down and stay inside and out of sight. No school. It sounds like the mother loves her kids, she just has no sense of responsibility. The responsible one, and the one who keeps the family together is Akira, to the best of his ability by cooking, shopping and paying the bills. Soon though, the mother takes off for “awhile”, and Akira continues running the household. Then the money dwindles. The mother never returns, the lights are turned off, the water stops flowing. Things are looking bleak. Still, Akira does what he can.

The descent into abject poverty is slow but inevitable. It’s a painful reminder that some people are just not equipped by temperament and quite frankly intellect, to have children in the first place, although as I said they really do love them on some level. The actress playing the mother (You) really does a good job of portraying this disconnect with a childlike quality, that comes across as love when she’s with her kids. The problem, of course is that she hardly ever is.

All of the kids are perfectly cast, playing with a childlike pathos that bursts forth in an exuberant day out when Akira seems to say “Fuck it. Let’s go have some fun.” And they do. You may not have “fun” watching this. It’s an emotional and heart-rending sequence of events after all (at least in its final stages). But at 141 minutes, you’ll be engaged the entire way with these kids right up to the finale.

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