We gave it an A
The characters in Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda’s beautifully unnerving films often exist somewhere between reality and memory. The four abandoned siblings in his piercing drama Nobody Knows are very much flesh and blood, but because they keep to themselves, fashioning a parentless routine while hiding in their increasingly dire Tokyo apartment from other adults who might break up the family, the children become rather ghostlike themselves. When their irresponsible sprite of a mother (one-named Japanese pop phenom YOU) disappears with yet another man and as the money she has left runs out, first the electricity goes, then the water, and then the food. But however horrifying the conditions — all the more shocking for being based on a true story out of a society that prides itself on propriety — there is nothing pathetic about the kids, or accusatory in the telling. Rather, Hirokazu finds a gentle and cumulatively mesmerizing way to convey the connection among the children, and to admire the society they build — slowly (Nobody Knows is confidently, unapologetically long) and through close observation of the physical world.
Most of the responsibility falls to the oldest son, Akira (Yagira Yuya), a 12-year-old boy forced into a paternal role when he himself has been cheated of a reliable father. Akira forages, cooks, defends, and experiences his own first crush on a neighborhood girl — and Yagira’s performance is so extraordinary, it won him the best actor prize at the 2004 Cannes film festival.