Saturday, February 13, 2010

Nobody Knows

Did anyone catch SBS2's screening of Nobody Knows (dare mo shiranai)? I'd never heard of it before, but in 2004, Yuya Yagira, who played main character Akira won the award for Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival. Don't read on if you plan to watch this yourself or if you are quite squeamish, but God what a bloody captivating film. In in a young mother and her eldest son Akira move into a new apartment, fooling the neighbours into thinking she only has one child by transporting her two youngest in suitcases while her eldest girl is snuck in from the train station in the middle of the night. Only Akira is allowed to leave the apartment, of all the children, so that he may to grocery shopping and pay at bills. At first the mother seems loving and genuinely caring despite herself, appearing to work all day and return home late but happy to play with her children. That is until she abandons them to marry a man who knows nothing about her children. Suffice to say we spent the whole film clutching each other on the couch, begging the powers that be that someone discovers them and gives them the help and protection they need. 
At the beginning of the film is a disclaimer mentioning that the story is based on real events. Naturally I had to find out what really happened, to get closure from the film which left things quite open ended. I almost wish I hadn't; the true story is far more gristly and tragic. In the press the story was called 'the affair of the four abandoned children of Sugamo'. The real mother had five children, none of whom were registered. Her youngest son died from illness not long after birth, but rather than telling the authorities and giving him a proper burial, she wrapped the child in plastic sheets with some deodoriser and hid him in the closet. When she abandoned them to live with her boyfriend, she left them only 50,000 Yen for living expenses. The eldest son befriended to other young teen boys who took to hanging out at their apartment. One boy became angry with the youngest girl, two years of age, for eating a bowl of ramen he'd brought for himself and he beat her to death. The eldest son and the other friend packed up her body and buried her in a shallow grave by some nearby mountains. Eventually the landlord discovered them and called the authorities. They had been abandoned for 9 months. The mother saw the story on the news and turned herself in. She spent only three years in prison and four on probation. She even got custody of her two surviving daughters. Charges were made against the eldest boy but dropped and he was remanded to a care facility; he was only 14 at the time. The two friends were sent to a reform school.
Children will do stupid things, especially when they have no example to follow and are given responsibilities far beyond their capabilities. The film portrays the eldest son as more of a generous but flawed hero, and his friends as mere delinquents. But I can't believe a woman could abandon her children like that, without a thought to how they might survive and then only get such a short time in prison. 
If you ever have a moment where you feel like you're a bad mother, perhaps you should watch this. You'll feel better about yourself, but rather a lot worse about the world.

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