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Nobody Knows, an extraordinary film from Japanese director Kore-Eda Hirokazu, is a heartbreaking and touching story about how selfish a single mother can be to her four children, and how resilient children can be. Kicked out of several apartments for her large brood, Keiko (Japanese pop star You) sneaks them in to a new one (two inside the suitcases) and goes over the house rules: No loud noises. They must stay hidden inside the apartment all day, every day. Only Akira, the oldest, leaves to do grocery shopping while she works. He also makes dinner while Keiko goes out on dates (implying to her children that she's looking for a rich husband so that they can all live in a big house together).
One day, Keiko (not a villain, but an unsympathetic, helium-voiced child herself) announces she's going away for a few weeks to work. She soon emerges every few months, only to drop off money before taking off again, at one point, for good. Akira forgoes any normal 12-year-old's upbringing (even school) to play mother, father, even Santa Claus to his siblings. There's a trapped feeling in Nobody Knows. For the younger kids, it's the inability to escape to the outside world. For Akira, it's seeing the outside world and knowing he has too many responsibilities to participate in it--when he tries, the results are disastrous. As the children grow up and resources become more scarce, the film's tenacity to show every painful detail of their existence slows the pace to almost a standstill. Still, it's a lovely, haunting tale beset with unforced performances from its young actors, particularly Yagira, who won the best actor prize at Cannes. -- Ellen A. Kim