Japanese with English subtitles and a slow and ponderous descent into sadness. Sound like a great way to spend two and a half hours? Depends on why you go to the movies. Director Hirokazu Kore-eda (After Life) has fashioned a film with a documentary feel about four siblings abandoned by their mother in Tokyo. In the process he's created one of the most gradual narrative arcs in the history of my film-going life. That's high praise - and a clue to you that sitting through this film has its grueling aspects.
Yagira Yuya won Best Actor award at Cannes.
The true head of the house is 12-year-old Akira (Yagira Yuya, winner of Best Actor award at Cannes in 2004). Sister Kyoto (Kitaura Ayu) is probably 11; brother Shigeru (Kimura Hiei) is 6 or 7; sister Yuki (Shimizu Momoko) is about 5. Akira seems light years more mature than his mother (played by Japanese pop star YOU). In fact, she's the most childish one in the bunch; her high-pitched squeak of a voice is emblematic of that. All she wants, she says, is to be "allowed to be happy."
Let's just say that when Akira is practicing his math skills, it's not just homework; it's about sharpening the skills necessary to keep a home working. Akira struggles to keep his family functioning even as the motherless days and weeks accumulate.
Another film might have relieved the unrelenting sadness with a faster pace, multiple crises or the appearance of a hero. Instead, we have an intimate, spare portrayal of a disintegrating home. Director Kore-eda traffics in details: a piece of chalk, a child's bare foot, a sprouting seed, the beautiful faces of the children strung together in a series of heart-breaking still-lifes.
I sense a deep structure to Nobody Knows and implicitly trust Kore-eda, whose hand seems masterful, but to be sure I'd have to watch it again. It's no slam to say I don't want to. I couldn't turn away at the lovely languid horror of Nobody Knows. The least I can do is not go back. At Castleton Arts Cinema Wednesday and Thursday only.