“Nobody Knows” and “Maboroshi”: Films about Pain and Struggle

These two Japanese films were directed by the critically acclaimed director Hirokazu Koreida. Both films were well accepted by the general public. These two films also garnered numerous awards and are known for their compelling storylines. Film critics around the world praised these two films on almost every department. “Maboroshi” was released in 1995, while “Nobody Knows” was released in 2004. There is a noticeable gap between the times these two movies were released, but director Hirokazu Koreida never lost his style and vision in film making.

“Maboroshi” is Koreida’s first film. It revolves around the life of a woman named Yomiko. After her husband committed suicide, she was left miserable and alone. She struggled to put the past behind as she was consumed by pain and depression. As she struggles to battle her own insecurities, regrets and doubts, she is forced to resolve the inexplicable cause for her grief through an eventual renewal of love and companionship. It seems that Yumiko cannot escape the ghost of the past.

Yet, she has renewed hope and comfort in the arms of another man. She decided to marry this man who is a fisherman. This man was lost after a storm came while he was fishing at the sea. After his return, Yomiko was never the same. Her doubts and fears have consumed her. She was also troubled with anxiety. She was stuck in the past, lost in thoughts that could bring pain and depression. These are the reasons why she could not fully commit herself to her second husband.

The film “Nobody knows” is a story about four children who were abandoned by their parents. The film was based on actual events which took place in 1988. It was said that the actual even was more depressing than the movie adaptation. The story begins when a woman named Keiko abandons her young children in a shabby apartment in an unknown Japanese city. She left her children with almost no money for survival. Her character shows us how irresponsible parents could be.

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Akira, her eldest son, took the role of their parents. He had to take care of his three siblings. He tried his best to be a good parent by borrowing money from people he knew and even gave gifts for his siblings during Christmas. The film gives a picture of how hard life can be in an urban setting, where life is fast and only the fittest would survive. The film is about the struggle of these four children in finding comfort, security, happiness and salvation.

Film Analysis and Comparison

The analysis and comparison will be divided into three parts. The first part will tackle the technical aspects of both films. Then the second part will tackle the theme and the story of both films. We will try to see if the two films are somewhat parallel. The last part of the analysis and comparison is about the message of the two films.

Technical Aspects

Since both films were directed by the same person, they do not differ that much in terms of the technical stuff. These two films boast greatness in cinematography. The shots were meticulously framed and scenes were carefully orchestrated. The lighting in both films helped a lot in accentuating the mood and emotion that a certain scene elicits. This was more evident in “Maboroshi”.

The film has a distinct imagery which was achieved by the contrast of colors and proper lighting effects. There are scenes from the film that actually looks like a canvass. The primary colors came in very effectively to highlight certain objects. An example would be the moving vehicles which brings luminous contrast. Even just the small details like the pink ball thrown by a child, the illuminated rooms bathed in light, and the blue paint in fishing boats were are all captivating. The film is pleasing to the eye. The scenes from this film were shot from a distance, making it more like a piece of artwork.

This actually makes the audience feel distant from the characters and the story. “Maboroshi” could be described as an art film that is crafted by a master artist. Just like “Maboroshi”, “Nobody Knows” can also be called an art film. It is quite different because it is like a documentary. The film feels more like a documentary on the story of the four abandoned children rather than a regular film. It is quite noticeable that there are only few dialogues in both films. Certain scenes are actually shot pretty long and camera movement was seldom.

The sparse dialogue and minimalist production actually worked well with “Nobody Knows” because it made the film more authentic. The movie’s slow pace and quietness made the plot build up more emotional. The set’s close quarters and bright lighting puts emphasis on the isolation and loneliness of the children’s apartment. The documentary style of filming that was employed in this film allowed the audience to see things from the children’s point of view.

Both films were well directed and the actors gave a wonderful performance. Since dialogue was sparse in both films, the body movement and facial expression of the actors had to play a big part in the story telling. We should applaud the actors in both films because they delivered well in this department. A number of them actually garnered acting awards. Yuya Yugira (Akira) from “Nobody Knows” won best actor at the Cannes Film Festival. He was only a novice at that time. Koreida revealed the emotions and thoughts of his characters through the use of body movement and facial expressions. Emotions could be felt even by just looking at the eyes of the children. The best directors simply know how to use this style. The connection between the characters and the audience is the grand result of these stylistic choices.

The Story and Theme

If we look deeper into these two films, we will notice that their respective themes are quite parallel. “Maboroshi” and “Nobody Knows” both talk about pain and struggle. These two themes are the driving forces of the two films. If we look back and recall the plot of “Maboroshi”, we would notice that the story is about the pain and struggles that the main character (Yomiko) was going through. She was always in a situation wherein she has to confront her pain and struggles. This is the same for the movie “Nobody Knows”. The story was also about pain and struggle. The four abandoned kids had to go through a lot because they had irresponsible parents. The whole story was about their struggle for survival and their continuous search for salvation.

The director employed the proper style and method to illustrate these two themes. The quietness and sparse dialogues helped a lot in relating these two themes to the audience. This is also the same reason why the two films are somewhat depressing. Although it’s necessary that films about these themes should be dark and gloomy, the use of contrast and a little bit of humor could still be effective. Director Hirokazu Koreida was successful in utilizing this style.

In “Maboroshi”, he used contrast of colors to bring light into the overall mood of the story. He made the audience see beauty amidst the gloom that surrounds the film. In “Nobody Knows”, he used a bit of humor and optimism that is quite unexpected in the worst of situations. There was a part when one of the kids had these funny squeaking shoes which could represent the privilege of finding hope as they leave their shelter for the first time.

The two films are about the universal concept of pain. They explore the emotion that makes us human. The question on how to deal with it is actually answered in the two films.


Maboroshi is a Japanese word that loosely translates to “illusory light.” It is an incomprehensible mirage that occasionally unveils itself along the waves of the sea, leading many curious sailors to their impending doom. Its origin is still a mystery. Nobody knows why men are lured by its worldly promises. There are things in this world that cannot be explained. There are events that are incomprehensible. It only reminds us of our limitations and our humanity. The lesson that we can draw from the film is that there tragedies and misfortunes in life that we cannot immediately understand, but this does not mean that we should give up on our search for redemption and recovery. One must learn to accept these tragedies to be able to move on with life.

The message that we can draw from “Nobody Knows” is similar to “Maboroshi”. The film shows us that there is hope amidst the worst of situations. Akira showed courage and devotion, even though it seemed that the weight of the world is upon him. The four siblings showed determination to survive, hoping that someday they will find a place in the harsh world they live in.

“Maboroshi” and “Nobody Knows” were crafted artistically. They are unique, full of emotion, and captivating. They reach through the hearts of the audience, pleading for sympathy and compassion. These two films are undeniably deserving of the praise and recognition they have received.



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