Monday, 20 June 2011

Nobody Knows

Another graduate of the Cannes circuit, Nobody Knows is based on a real life event from the late Eighties where four children were abandoned by their mother and left to fend for themselves in their Tokyo apartment, with tragic consequences.

What I like about this film is its lightness of touch - it's a modern morality tale that resists melodrama, sentimentality and judgementalism almost entirely (the score too, generally eschews emotional manipulation), in lieu of an intimate portrait of the everyday existence of the four abandoned kids. The children all act very well, especially Yuya Yagira as 12-year old Akira, who impresses as the nominal head of the household, struggling to come to terms with his mother's neglect; forced to deal with an inner conflict between wanting a childhood for himself and assuming responsibility for his younger siblings. In the end, naivety engenders a slow descent into unpaid bills, squalor and malnutrition. When I say 'slow descent' though, it's painfully slow and that's really the film's Achilles' heel. It gives you time to really get to know the characters, but not much actually happens (until the bleak finale) - and with a running time of 2 hours 20 minutes, that means it frequently drags.

So despite being commendably realistic and refreshingly subtle in its execution, it's not a film I can imagine wanting to revisit any time soon.

Dir. Koreeda Hirokazu, 2004

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The Taste of Tea

Not exactly what I was expecting. From the title, and the fact it did the rounds at Cannes, I was expecting an Ozu rerun for modern times, but it's actually more akin to a Japanese version of Round the Twist - that gently surreal Antipodean kids show from the early 90s. The story, if it can properly be called a story, centres around an eccentric family in rural Japan; their individual lives and dreams, but also their place in the family unit.

It's not without its charms, and it probably does hit (hit is too strong, gently tap would be more apposite) on some basic truths about human nature, but ultimately Ishii's self-consciously wacky approach to direction left me feeling more irritated than heart-warmed. There's the zany grandpa with his preposterous barnet and bushy unibrow, the zany young girl, Sachiko, with her giant doppleganger (a sort of metaphorical guardian spirit perhaps), the zany boy, Hajime, and his awkward forays into romance. Maybe it's just the cynic me, but there's only so much good-natued zaniness I can take in one film.

Dir. Katsuhito Ishii, 2004