This was a depressing movie, though apparently not as depressing as the real-life events it was based on. Four children are left alone in an apartment by their mother with only a little cash. Their mother is a woman who makes, shall we say, bad life choices — the children are all by different fathers, none of whom are around to help out. She leaves her children for weeks, then months at a time.
Akira, the oldest, does the best he can for a 12-year-old. We see the slowly dawning realization in him and his oldest sister that their mother really doesn't have their best interests at heart, and cannot be relied on to take care of them, but they don't know what to do about it. As their mother's absences become longer, and money runs out, they go from unsupervised children having an extended vacation from school to feral children living in an increasingly filthy apartment. First the electricity, then the water gets shut off. They go barefoot and unwashed. Akira gets a little help from neighborhood kids, but obviously four pre-teens cannot live alone indefinitely without something bad happening.
This is a Japanese film, so it's slower-paced with a lot more "empty spaces" than would be found in a Hollywood movie. There's not much dialog, and hardly anything is spelled out — we just see the gradually deteriorating living conditions, and the flickering of hope in the childrens' eyes slowly dying. There are a lot of lingering camera shots fixed on Akira or his siblings just staring blankly into the distance. The ending gives little closure.
It's kind of like The Cement Garden... minus the incest. A good movie, but definitely a downer.