School Days With A Pig


Reviewed by: sukting

April 24, 2009

Rating: three

How long
120 minutes

Foreword

It all starts with a first-year teacher (Satoshi Tsumabuki)’s decision to rear a pig to tell them about life. His initial intention is to eat the pig after his 26 pupils rear it for a year. Torn between the decision to eat the pig, and the love they have put into caring for it, the children face the meaning of "life" and "consumption." It is based on a true story so this film swept across Japan with the serious topic.

This is the third Japanese movie that I watched this year – after "Suspect X" and "Departures".

Story

A rookie primary school teacher, Hoshi comes to the principal with a proposal. He suggests that his students raise a pig, as a way to teach “the real connection between life and food.” He further proposes to eat the pig when it is fully grown. The deadline is their graduation. Under the watchful eye of the motherly school principal (Mieko Harada) and her disapproving deputy (Ren Osugi), the kids accepts the task.

The pig can be quite a handful when Hoshi first brings it home. Although he places it into a box, it keeps coming out to want to eat his food. He has to force it back into the box. The vice principal doesn’t see why the principal should agree to it but she decides to give it a try. Hoshi comes to his class with a pig and speaks of his plan. His pupils agree to it and take care of it, following a roster. Hesitant to take care of the P-chan at first, it wasn’t long before the students begin to cherish it.

They even build a sty for it – at the expense of using the badminton net. Of course, they are forced to return it later. They name the piglet “P-chan”. The vice principal shakes his head – he can forsee a problem coming soon. It can be very brutal. What is the point of naming it since they are going to eat it? The children are silent after listening to his remark. They have become more responsible due to it and can’t bear to part with it.

They not only get food for it from home or from the canteen but also do not find clearing P-chan’s waste a chore. They are supposed to bring leftovers but knowing that P-chan loves tomatoes, they bring big ones and the fat boy actually buys a small sack of tomatoes for it. Some children have changed. The introvert Haruna who is just a transfer-in student starts to communicate more with P-chan and the others.

As time passes, the rookie teacher starts facing displeasures from his colleagues and the parents of his students. His colleagues complain that it makes noises when they teach. Mariyo (Tomoko Tabata) brings her pupils for gardening to find their tomato plants being eaten by P-chan. Hoshi has to apologise to her.

Hoshi’s colleagues too, did not see the need for having a pig in order to learn life lessons. They believe just teaching them from the texts is also the same. However the calm and steadfast Mr Hoshi continues to go about achieving the task of convincing them that his plan will work.

Some of the complaints from parents – their children stink when they return home, they refuse to finish their food to get leftovers for P-chan, they have to separate their children’s clothes from the others. Is Hoshi their children’s teacher or P-chan’s teacher? The principal supports Hoshi – has the children complain about taking care of P-chan or Hoshi? She requests the parents to be more understanding.

Everyone soon gets attached to the pig over time, with P-chan becoming an integral part of the class. Drawings on how they bathe her and have ball games with her are pinned all over the board. P-chan also shares wonderful moments with them in their music lesson – to make noises during the chorus. When it comes to summer vacation, they miss him when they are at home. A fat boy imagines it flying away due to the strong wind. He later draws it on his table.

There is a day when a storm comes. All worry for her at home – Hoshi returns to school to add bricks to the roof to prevent it from flying away. To his surprise, all return to help. The fat boy even gets his father to drive his van to help Hoshi bring P-chan to his home. The boy’s father describes that he has told him how fish grows to get eaten but he often ignores him but now he listens to him over it. Many pupils start to call Hoshi to find out P-chan’s well-being. P-chan is enjoying a bath in his bathtub.

Once kid’s chef father is making pork chops at home. He asks him when he gets the chance to kill P-chan. He recalled how he reared chickens when young but have to kill them to make a living when he grows up. But in the kid’s mind, he wonders if he will end up not touching pork at all if he gets to eat P-chan.

Even the principal chips in to help by getting a new piece of cloth for it to sleep. P-chan can’t even wait for her to get out when she gets in! She confesses that she had wished to have a pet when young but had to drop the idea as her parents disapproved it. Seeing how eager the children are over it, she agrees that they have learned a valuable lesson.

Will they follow the initial objective of this project or…many start to have doubts. One girl actually treats P-chan like a pet to sneak it out of school for a walk! Hoshi and the others manage to get both back. He is tongue-tied when they ask why they can’t treat her as a pet. If people can walk dogs or cats, why is the pig being omitted? Hoshi starts to find himself getting into a fix.

The children themselves begin to quarrel over P-chan’s fate. However teacher and students manage to overcome the problems and learn a lot from this experience. They list the possibilities of her fate. One suggestion is to send her to another farm while another is to get a junior class to take care of it. Hoshi fails to find a farm to adopt P-chan as it is too big. Thus the decision lies on the latter.

When Hoshi raises this up at the staff meeting, all teachers oppose to it. They even criticize him for pushing the problem to them. Just when he is about to make a further comment, his students have already flocked to the school AVA studio to make the announcement. They have wished to pass the task to a Primary 5 class but surprisingly, only Mariyo’s P3 class is eager to take over.

Although doubtful that they can do a good job, the children teach the kids. It proves to be tough as P-chan gets big in size and some of them are afraid of the dirt or are hurt by P-chan. 365 days of love and devotion showered on P-chan, they have grown attached to it. The deadline of the project is drawing near. They have to decide the fate of P-chan. Now to kill it by sending it to the meat centre (not in front of their eyes or it will be too brutal) or to continue to let the Primary 3 pupils look after it?

They come to 13 votes for the first round. The funny part is – P-chan climbs up the stairs to hide outside the door to listen to their debate! P-chan suddenly goes missing. All children rush out of the school to look for him. Two boys on the opposite side fight with each other when one accuse the other for mentioning of sending it away to let it escape.

When seeing the meat centre staff trying to pull it away, they yell at them to stop ill-treating their pet. Hoshi follows and sees them bringing P-chan back to school. He knows that he is in for a tough time later.

The debate goes on and the voting result is a tie again. The pupils look at Hoshi, expecting him to give his final vote as he is part of the class.

Hoshi stays back after school to consider over it and Mariyo looks for him. The principal has given her approval to let her class take over and she has come up with the time-table. She believes that her class is able to do it as they are in Primary 4 next year. After seeing the boy’s drawing of P-chan with wings on the table, he makes a decision.

Hoshi brings his class to the sty to tell them about his choice. He decides to send it to the meat centre. All are upset but supports his decision. Mariyo asks why he does it – is it because he has no confidence in her. He replies that he has to end it since he starts it. Hoshi gets his class to apologise to the Primary 3 pupils. The younger children are unhappy that they are deprived of the chance to look after P-chan.

After consideration, they know that Hoshi means well. He has not wanted the younger children to face the same dilema that they are facing now. As they grow older, they also need to find another class to take care of P-chan. They feed P-chan with its favourite tomatoes and all burst into tears to run after the truck when it is being taken away.

It is their graduation day but they can’t help missing P-chan as all go on stage to get their leaving certificate. All the teaching staff are well-dressed for the occasion. Hoshi looks at his class reluctantly as this is their last day of school. The film moves to a close as their drawings of P-chan are shown and their last picture is on stage, talking to them.

Interesting facts

Based on a true story in the 1993 documentary, Tetsu Maeda’s film was a favorite at this year’s TIFF, where it won the Audience Award. It had a popular actor, cute kids, and an attractive theme - food.

The director almost made this film without a script. When the kids sit down to debate about whether or not to change P-chan into bacon, it seemed that the children weren’t acting any more. He prepared an adult script while the children are given a paper with no lines or ending. The director has hoped that the children will think of P-chan’s future while shooting and rearing P-chan. Indeed, they did a good job!

To make sure that the pig grew in stages, the filming unit used 11 pigs. There were piglets which were 1 month old, 10 months old or even 120 kg. Some pigs were even trained to play soccer with the children. The children enjoyed filming very much.

Conclusion

To Hoshi, this would be the best lesson that these young kids would learn in school. True enough, the kids pick up an invaluable lesson as they face countless dilemmas and arguments but joy as well in the process of raising the pig. Tsumabuki comes with both suaveness and sincerity, making him instantly respectable and likable. He maintains a convincing rapport with the students. All the kids get to have their own distinct personality - the fat kid is the cutest among them.

However, the multiple debates about P-Chan’s fate get too long each time, turning it to a marathon. Perhaps more could be done to showcase the student’s continuously growing affection for the pig instead of wasting the screen time. And how can the voting number be even twice to rely on Hoshi’s vote as the final?! This is simply too coincidental.

‘School Days with a Pig’ is nevertheless a watchable film. It gets its audience thinking - bring on the pork chops or to let the pig live. It targets at students, teachers and parents. This is one movie that invites discussion and pondering about simple things in life that we take for granted. It allows the children to speak their minds freely.

It’s a simple plan with good intention but it seems to backfire. Initially, he enjoys taking a back seat and doesn’t lead the children to come to their own conclusion. Hoshi soon finds that instead of teaching the kids a lesson, he himself has learned a tough lesson in life. He creates a lot of grief to all those who are directly (the kids and him) and indirectly involved (the parents, the other teachers and even the principal). I find this issue too sensitive to touch on – even some adults are not ready for it.

It is very likely that he ends it with his vote so as not to repeat such a project with a next batch of kids. The supposedly successors are only 10 year-olds. They are younger and may be unable to cope with grief as P-chan grows old. Although it teaches them to be responsible and treasures lives more, they have to deal with the pain of losing it – although the 6-2 class are more capable of facing the problem.

I feel like the movie is running in circle before coming to a conclusion. The ending shows the kids again –all one by one – to remind all of their different views. They will be tugging your hearts strings with their sensitivity and their viewpoint in this project. "School Days with a Pig" should not be missed although it isn’t as endearing as ‘Babe’.

Sukting’s ratings :

On acting : ***1/2 (Scale of 5)

On story : *** (Scale of 5)



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