4 April 2009 | DICK STEEL
A Nutshell Review: School Days With A Pig
Our nature is such that we care most for the people we are related to, and know on a personal level. Otherwise, it's likely everything else is just a number, a statistic, something that feels so distant that it's genuinely difficult for us to sympathize, or emphatize beyond a cursory statement that explains how we should feel as decent human beings. In increasing levels of concern when a tragedy occurs, if something strikes overseas, it's unfortunate. If it's local then it's lucky it didn't affect someone we know. If it does and it's not family, we offer our condolences. If someone we know becomes collateral damage, we suffer inconsolable rage even.
School Days with a Pig plays along this line where teacher Mr Hoshi (Satoshi Tsumabuki) decides to give his class a head start in life, where Man sits on the top of the food chain, and everything below is fair game when it comes to filling up the stomach. He also attempts to teach the children that in our living comes the sacrifice of other living beings just because they are expendable in the natural order of things, but that doesn't mean not acknowledging creatures like chickens, cows and pigs. Given his unorthodox methods, it was also explained why specifically a pig and not the other animals, so that may appease those who jump the gun too quickly in say this reeks of Babe.
The film reminded me of an anecdote which is from another movie (whose title eludes me now), where a teacher had asked his students to draw a chicken, and he received pictures of burgers, patties and basically animal parts like thighs, breasts and wings. It's come to a stage where our food supply chain is so modernized and processed, that children no longer recognize or need to know the source of their food. We also don't see how the animals get chopped and slaughtered behind the scenes, and I suppose many more would turn vegetarian should we witness how it comes through the assembly line.
In any case, this story on the surface is about the raising of a piglet by the teacher and his students from the 6th grade, where their objective from the start is to nourish it, and then to eat it. Directed by Tetsu Maeda based upon the novel by Yasushi Kuroda, it comes with plenty of excitable kids who are now given their first collective pet, and take great pains in order to ensure that their teacher's plan works to a T. From working together to build a play pen for the pig, to the diligent gathering of leftover food as meals for their pet, they learn the value of teamwork, where everyone chips in a little for the good of everyone else.
Then comes the more interesting portions of the film, in between the usual bonding scenes with the pig through fun and games. We have at least two extended debating scenes where Mr Hoshi moderates discussions amongst his charges, separated into those who still insist their project should end with the consuming of P-Chan (christening any pet is a bad idea for those with intent of abandonment and the likes), or to allow a change in letting it continue living in the school grounds as a pet. It is here that the viewpoints get accentuated through the different personalities in the classroom, where everyone is given fair opportunity to make their point heard.
It's like observing a political debate in progress, where both sides are equally passionate about their viewpoints, and sometimes allowed emotions to run high, which allowed for some play-acting by the children that I couldn't fathom whether it was all staged, but coming from within for real. And that wouldn't be difficult too, given that they had indeed spent some real time with the pig in order to draw upon some real emotions as to whether they wanted it to live, or to end up on their dinner plates. And as they inched toward graduation, their decision, which is still much split, becomes more dire with an impending sense of urgency to resolve.
The piglet might be the gimmick in School Days with a Pig, but the real stars of the show are the children in their natural ability to showcase their range of emotions. It's little wonder why this film won the Toyota Grand Prix Jury Award, and the Audience Award in last year's Tokyo International Film Festival!