Touted as an early contender for the Palm d'Or at last year's Cannes Film Festival (it had to make do with Best Actor for 12-year-old Yûya Yagira), Hirokazu Koreeda's melancholic drama hovers between two schools of realism - - social and magical.
It tells the haunting, based-on-truth tale of four children who must fend for themselves when their feckless mother absconds with a lover. Squeezed into a tiny but tidy Tokyo flat, the kids devolve into street urchins as their perpetual playtime inevitably gives way to malnourishment, squalor and sickness. The kids' decline is captured with a startling objectivity by Koreeda, his placid camera and washed out colour scheme blanketing the action with an eerie stillness. It makes for involving and occasionally bewitching viewing... though with a running time of 140 minutes, it outstays its welcome.