Smuggled in Suitcases

in 14th Oslo International Film Festival

by Oliver Rahayel

Among the Asian movies shown at the Oslo Film Festival Film Fra Sør (Films from the South) there was an extraordinary work by Japanese filmmaker Kore-eda Hirokazu. Nobody Knows tells the breathtaking story of four siblings in Tokyo whose age range from about five to twelve years and who shortly after moving into an apartment in Tokyo together with their mother are abandoned by her heartlessly. The irritations start at the very beginning, when the two smallest children are smuggled into the apartment in two suitcases, and when their mother then forbids them to leave it even for a minute. Left alone with some money and a few toys, the four children led by their eldest brother manage to live their life bravely until the mother comes back for once. But the young woman, who seems to be or retarded or at least a pathetically egocentric, leaves them alone again, promising to return for Christmas. The children keep waiting desperately, while the months pass by, money fades away and by spring even electricity and water are being turned off.

Hirokazu, who had started his career as a documentary filmmaker on Japanese television, could have told a highly emotional drama or a sociological accusation. Instead, he reduces the dramaturgy, the visuals and the social background to a minimum, to the essentials of the children’s life declining into poverty and isolation. At first, the children do not seem to be disturbed too much by the absence of their mother, playing video games or dressing up as adults. Only the eldest and most serious kid is obviously not content about the fact that his mother refuses to give him the permission to go to school. Step by step, the smiles vanish from the children’s faces while they try to maintain their life by washing dishes and clothes and, after a while, begging for some food at the supermarket. It is the slow, laconic telling of those details getting worse and worse which constructs the drama. And it is the natural acting of the children which makes it emotional. The oldest boy, Yagira Yuuya, even got the Best Actor award at the Cannes film festival this year — a performance children usually are not able to achieve without a director’s ability to lead them with a lot of sensitivity.

The beginning provides audiences with the information that the film is based on a true story. They may think about this fact again at the end.

Oliver Rahayel