The Modern Japanese Family
Discuss the representation of the Modern Japanese Family in the first scene of Nobody Knows (Chapter 1) and the clip shown in the seminar (Chapter 8).
This paper explores the Japanese film Nobody Knows, looking at Japanese culture, as the film exaggerates an aspect of Japanese society in order to convey ideas. The film concentrates on a notorious case of child abandonment in the 1980’s in a documentary like style, to emphasise the realism. The chapters are analysed through camera angles, and imagery symbolism, in order to establish the message the author is attempting to communicate to an audience who may not have realised the imperfection of Japanese society, and how Japanese culture has the word disguise deeply entrenched in it, because people are obsessed with how they are seen in public.
ccording to Adam Campbell’s Midnight Eye, Nobody Knows seems to reflect the true story of child abandonment in Tokyo, 1988.
Nobody Knows represents the dynamic change of the traditional Japanese family and society as a whole. However Kore-eda exaggerates this dominant Ideology through the selfish, promiscuous mother, and the over matured son who is robbed of his childhood. He also plays around with the roles of the family and could be emphasising the consequences of a Japanese household when there is no male figure.
The scene starts with a mother and son introducing themselves to the neighbors, however the absence of the father is quite a strange occurrence for a stereotypical Japanese family and therefore conveys the modern society of Japan. This change is seen in statistics (Kamachi, 1999) where in 1947, two out of three of marriages were arranged. However after 1970, love marriages were more frequent, as well as divorces, and the number of single parents increased by 50%.
Kore-eda conveys and exaggerates how the Japanese culture rebels against the traditional perfect family that Japan is most famous for. Chapter one shows the contrast between this modern Japanese family and the current society, because the public clearly do not want anything to do with broken families like Keiko’s, therefore Keiko builds a façade for the public.As soon as the children escape from the suitcase, Keiko completely retreats into an informal register, in contrast to earlier, and her attitude is also childlike. The short clip quickly sums up their life and the character of the mother, and the shot of the Louis Vuitton suitcase symbolises the mother’s glamorous and perfect exterior for the public, where inside she is trying to hide or escape her household secrets.
During Chapter one there are frequent close up shots of the suitcase and Akira’s hand. This is quite ominous, and tells us that there is a surprise or a certain twist about the purely normal suitcase. Just before the children are released from the suitcase there is another close-up shot of the suitcase, and this time Akira is almost caressing it. We realize later that this could be a sign of his role in the family, as he appears to take the role of the mother, where the mother is more a father figure, as fathers in Japan tend to “spend little time at home” (Rebick and Takenaka, 2006, p 130). Therefore Akira adapts this responsibility for the children, where the mother is out of touch as she is at work all the time.
This juxtaposition carries on throughout the whole film, especially when the mother childishly asks Akira to leave her dinner, and Akira is the one interrogating her with where she is going, and what time she would return, and a complete role reversal is revealed. There is a further unfamiliar attitude from Kyoko, one of the children, when she asks Akira the location of the washing machine.There is a high angle shot of the two walking, connoting loneliness and isolation, especially from the society.
The behavior of the callous mother is ironic as the word woman in Japanese, is “devotion to children and self sacrifice” (Rebick and Takenaka, 2006,p.131) and the fact that Japanese mothers are usually given full responsibility over their children. (Rebick and Takenaka, 2006).However in Chapter 8 we are reminded of how Akira is still a young boy, through his failed attempt to throw the can into the bin as well as his equally, playful, facial response to the boy in the car. This denotes his change of character outside the house. The fact that he leaves the mother role for a while to be free, and he also makes new friends, as we see later in the film.
Chapter one ends with a long shot of the door of the family’s flat, which gives connotations of desolation and seclusion from society as well as the visible representation of secrecy. This leads into the next chapter where we are peeking through the gap in the door, as if we are discovering a hidden secret. This all entwines with the idea of Nobody Knows. Kore-eda also introduces intertextuality by creating a documentary style through the hand held technique, for the movement of children, especially Shigeru. Therefore the audience can relate it to a real story.
In the beginning of Chapter eight, there is a long shot of the various people in the train, but we are not aware of the presence of Akira until the close-up. This portrays Akira’s function in society, as invisible and linking to the title Nobody Knows. Kore-eda also shows the isolation by the distance created between Akira and Keiko in the mirror scene. Keiko being much closer to her reflection also suggests that she admires her vanity more than her children.
In Chapter eight, there is a part where Keiko reveals her negatively dominant side. She acts as a bully towards her children and they accept this, and do not even try to undermine her, even though they seem more capable. When Kyoko spills the nail polish and smudges it on her finger, it gives a negative feeling and as if the mark represents the emotional scar from her mother.
In conclusion, the modern family conveys an unconventional family in Japan, or a low class representation of family. Kore-eda could also be conveying the immoral nature of women in modern times and their loss of sensitivity for children.
This reflects the fact that “young women feel increasingly reluctant to be mothers…” according to Rebick and Takenaka (2006, p. 130), as well as the idea that “women are supposed to obey men” in Japan, as quoted from (Kamachi, 1999 p. 30), therefore a lack of a male figure controlling the woman would result in a dysfunctional family.
Nobody Knows because of the fake mask, which conceals the truth, the truth society would not approve of. However in contrast, “nobody wants to know” because it would be polluting themselves to be involved, according to (Hendry, 2008). A secret is best kept when everyone knows.
Campbell, A. (2005) Nobody Knows. Midnight Eye.
Hendry, J. (2008) An Introduction to Social Anthropology. (2nd ed.). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Rebick, M. and Takenaka, A. (2006) The Changing Japanese Family. London and New York: Routledge.
Kamachi, N. (1999) Culture and customs of Japan. London: Green Wood Press.