Volume 74, Number 42 | February 23 - March 01, 2005

Koch On Film

“Nobody Knows” (-)

This film was well reviewed by other critics. The Daily News critic, Jami Bernard, wrote: “Excellent, troubling social commentary from Japan, based on a true story, about four abandoned children who prove resilient but not superhuman.” I found this 2 1/2 hour movie to be monotonous, and I warn you against it.

Although the story is fictional, it is based on a true story of a Japanese family that lived in Tokyo. Generally, incidents creating dramatic tension are added to such stories. The family is made up of the mother, Keiko (You), and her four children ranging in age from about four to twelve: Akira (Yuya Yagira), Kyoko (Ayu Kitaura), Yuki (Momoko Shimizu) and Shigeru (Hiei Kimura). They are living in a two-room apartment, and every so often, Keiko leaves the children unsupervised, sometimes for months at a time, apparently looking for work. Only the oldest boy, Akira, is allowed outside the building because the landlord made it clear to the mother when she rented the place that no small children would be allowed.

Left alone, the cleanliness of their home begins to deteriorate. The children run out of money. The rent is unpaid and the utilities, including water, are shut off. Food is sometimes provided through a restaurant’s charity, but it is not always available. On one occasion, one of the children begins to eat paper. All of the children have different fathers, and since none of them were registered at school, the authorities are not aware of their situation. However, it does not make sense that the landlord would not evict them for unpaid rent or that the other tenants would not complain of the stench that had to exist.

You’s portrayal of the mother and Yagira’s as the oldest son are excellent, and the performances of the other three children are first rate as well.

The suffering of these four children was painful to watch and contemplate, but when the movie ended, I knew I could not recommend it, because it failed the Koch test: did I leave feeling my time was well spent. The truth is that I wished I had spent the time strolling through Central Park under Christo’s gates and banners. I asked two people in the audience what they thought of the film. One said, “I liked it. It showed the enormous resilience of children.” The other said, “It was an hour too long and reminded me of the time I was sitting in the middle of the row during the ten-minute preview of “Troy,” and could not escape.”

I don’t believe you will enjoy this film. (In Japanese with English subtitles.)

“Head-On” (-)

New York Post reviewer, Debra Birnbaum, gave this film 3 1/2 stars stating, “Already the winner of a slew of international awards, ‘Head-On’ is a heartbreaking Turkish-German drama about a self-destructive couple’s unlikely path to love.” The movie has some novel aspects but not enough for me to recommend it.

The film is about two people who become a couple: Cahit (Birol Unel) and Sibel (Sibel Kekilli). They are Turks working in Hamburg, Germany, and both are grungy, alcoholic, drug addicted and suicidal. Sibel is in her late 20s and lives at home with her parents and her brother. She is desperate to leave her parents home, but they will not allow her to go unless she marries and moves in with her husband.

Cahit and Sibel meet at a hospital where both are recovering from suicide attempts. He intentionally drove his car into a wall and she slit her wrists. One self-destructive act by Sibel involves her seeking to infuriate others to the point where they will kill her. Her action is similar to what they refer to in the United States as “suicide by cop,” which involves threatening a cop to the point where he believes he is in danger and then shoots the suspect in self-defense.

Although the characters themselves are interesting, I never became involved in the erratic interaction between them which include episodes of sex, drinking, drugs, and violence. The locations of Hamburg and Istanbul, which could have been fascinating, do not provide decent travelogues.

Kekilli and Unel both perform well in their roles. Unel has interesting, gruff features, similar to Jean Gabin who dominated the French cinema for a long time. Notwithstanding lots of action, I was bored by the film’s apparent aimlessness. (In German and Turkish, with English subtitles.)

- Ed Koch

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