23 October 2006 | DICK STEEL
A Nutshell Review: A Class To Remember (Gakko)
Gakko tells a simple heartwarming story of a group of students and their teacher, in one of the public night schools in Japan providing them education at the Junior High level. With night schools, you know that the students are working adults, and the narrative takes its time to dwell on the characters' backgrounds, and their interactions with the teacher, how he helped them in their times of need, or simply being the beacon of hope for them.
The first act does exactly that, and given its premise, I thought it was a dead-serious episode of Mind Your Language, minus the slapstick humour. There are hilarious moments, but nothing that tickles your funny bone until you cry tears of laughter. It was one of the more standard techniques used, with the premise set during the class' graduation, and the final assignment being an essay documenting their thoughts about graduation. You have a diverse group of students, ranging from an elderly immigrant restaurant operator from Korea, a delinquent teenager, and a sleepy-head, amongst others, as flashbacks provide necessary background information on how they got to the class, forming the basis of an introduction to the characters.
In the second act, it is a departure from memorable moments, to one of remembrance and tribute to a fellow student who had passed on. And it is this portion which lent a certain gravitas to the story, with plenty of heartfelt scenes about how an old man challenges incredible odds against his gaining an education. If I were an elderly man, then perhaps this character's never say die attitude, would have rubbed off onto me.
The flute soundtrack/score was beautiful, and repetitive enough to make it stick to your mind after the movie ends. Cinematography again is simple, and you wonder if the zen inspired minimalist look and feel is opted for Gakko.
You can't help but to notice a stark difference between this movie, and the slew of Hollywood contemporaries belonging to similar genres. While Gakko is quiet contemplation and reflection for the most parts, its recent peers are more flashy, more colourful and lively. The students too are portrayed differently. Contemporaries would lap at them about having serious issues that prevented them from excelling in school or have this "Me Against The World" mentality, but the Gakko students, while they have issues, are portrayed in a more positive light in terms of attitudes towards learning and life in general.
However, the films all agree on something, that an inspirational teacher is all it takes to whip a class of misfits to shape.