When Keiko (You) checks into a new second-floor Tokyo apartment, she introduces the landlord to 12-year-old Akira (Yagira Yuya). If he knew she had three more kids – Kyoko, Shigeru and little Yuki, all sired by different long-gone fathers – hidden away in her luggage, he’d never have let the place to her. The flat’s small and the children, who have never been to school, are always at home studying quietly so the neighbours won’t notice them; but they’re a close, affectionate family and Akira has no problem keeping his younger brother and sisters in check while mum’s out at work. Trouble is, she’s waywardly generous with her affections, and one day, soon after telling Akira she’s fallen in love, she’s gone. But for how long?
Inspired by events that took place in 1988, this latest film from the maker of ‘Maborosi’ and ‘After Life’ again uses a painstaking semi-documentary method – it was shot with a non-professional cast in the tiny apartment over a whole year – to achieve an unusually intimate and natural atmosphere. The kids especially respond to this approach quite superbly, so that the depiction of their degenerating circumstances and changed relationships rings impressively true; it helps, too, that Kore-eda clearly prefers to observe and reflect on human adaptability rather than turn the material into some grand thesis. That said, as with its predecessor ‘Distance’, the pace sometimes feels a little too leisurely, and the ending doesn’t have quite the dramatic or emotional force many might like; but this remains compassionate, intelligent filmmaking all the same.