This film is based on a true controversial story that swept across Japan. A rookie primary school teacher suggests his students that they raise a pig and eat it as a way to teach "the real connection between life and food". The deadline will be their graduation. The students name their piglet "P-Chan" and learn to overcome the problems they face when taking care of it. After a year of love and devotion showered on P-Chan, it has grown big. The deadline of the project is drawing near. They have to decide the fate of P-Chan. Will they follow the initial objective of this project or...
"School Days with a Pig" takes a deceptively simple premise and turns it on its head. Based on an actual event in a primary school in Osaka, it tells of how a certain rookie teacher came up with a unique idea to teach his students the significance of life- take a pig, rear it for a year, then slaughter it.
But Mr Hoshi (Satoshi Tsumabuki), the teacher with the idea, gets more than he bargained for when his class starts developing feelings for their pet- so named P-chan. And inevitably, come graduation day, the class is forced to confront the difficult, and potentially painful, decision of what to do with P-chan- send it to the slaughter house or let another younger class take over.
If you think this movie is another exercise in cuteness and melodrama, think again. In fact, this is quite the intellectual affair as Mr Hoshi encourages the students to voice out their feelings and their opinions in a bid to use the majority vote to decide. It’s a debate that will split the class distinctly into two camps, a debate that will potentially polarise the class- and what’s worse, as Mr Hoshi himself so astutely says, there is no right or wrong answer.
And indeed, there isn’t. It’s a dilemma that will become as complex as life itself, one that will force these sixth-grade children (that’s our equivalent of Primary 6) to ponder about the very nature of the meaning of life, for us humans and for animals. “Who’s to decide the length of life?” asks the quiet newcomer Hana who holds a particularly special affection to P-chan. I’m not sure how to answer that myself, and I think many parents will be equally stumped if your child looks at that piece of pork lying cooked on the dinner table and asks you that.
More than the issues, Tetsu Maeda’s film also doesn’t forget the characters of his story. Though spurred by noble intentions, Mr Hoshi is cast as the passionate teacher slowly appreciating the ramifications of his plan, an outcome that he increasingly feels powerless to control but must in the end do so responsibly. And Maeda shows a particularly deft hand at bringing out the personalities of the various children through their arguments and opinions, such that though there is a whole class of them, you’ll still be able to tell one apart from the other.
Just as terrific are the young cast who seem to be able to manage their characters almost effortlessly- their excellent performances evidently winning enough to let the movie take home the Audience Award at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 2008. And indeed, it is absolutely deserving of the award- “School Days with a Pig” is that rare breed of intelligent children’s entertainment that will certainly enthrall both kids and adults alike.
Picture is surprisingly clear and sharp, bringing out beautifully the bright colours of the film. The Dolby 2.0 audio presented in Japanese does just fine for the material.
Review by Gabriel Chong
Posted on 16 June 2009