School Days With a Pig (Buta ga Ita Kyoshitsu) is a simple little picture about children faced with a life and death issue — the future of a pig they have been raising as a pet during the final year of primary school. There is plenty of cuteness, but the film has a serious issue at its heart, and in documenting the response of the cast of young children, director Tetsu Maeda manages to create a very appealing entertainment. It has won hearts, if not critical acclaim, garnering the audience choice award at the Tokyo International Film Festival in October of last year.
The story begins with rookie teacher Mr Hoshi (Satoshi Tsumabuki) deciding that he will confront his students with some real issues of life by bringing a pig into the curriculum. He states clearly at the beginning that when the class graduates, the pig will be sent to the slaughterhouse.
The premise is a departure from Disney, and the story is in fact based on an actual event in a primary school in Osaka. The teacher’s idea is that by rearing a pig for slaughter, students will be forced to confront the idea that their life owes much to the sacrifice of other living things. It’s a big topic, but Mr Hoshi has no idea how big it will get. Mr Hoshi’s objections to naming the pig are soon overruled by his class, and the pig rapidly assumes the status of class mascot.
The kids are initially horrified by the realities of rearing a pig, not least from the need to clean copious amounts of excrement from the super cute pig pen that they build in the school’s playground. Parents object when children come home smelling of the sty. Other teachers are less than supportive, and indulge in some “told you so” schadenfreude when Mr Hoshi has to deal with issues like feeding the pig during the summer holidays and the passionate objection of some of his class to dealing with the pig as originally arranged.
SCHOOL DAYS WITH A PIG (BUTA GA ITA KYOSHITSU)
DIRECTED BY: TETSU MAEDA
STARRING: SATOSHI TSUMABUKI (MR HOSHI), REN OSUGI (VICE PRINCIPAL NISHINA), TOMOKO TABATA (MS IKEZAWA), SEIJI IKEDA (MR KOWASI), MIEKO HARADA (PRINCIPAL TAKAHARA)
IN JAPANESE WITH CHINESE SUBTITLES
TAIWAN RELEASE: TODAY
While the pig, P-chan, is presented in a cute way, Maeda does not avoid issues of the animal’s bodily functions and its disruption to the orderly conduct of the school. In fact, that’s really the point. School Days With a Pig emphasizes that life is a messy business.
Maeda proves particularly adept at handling his cast of children and their various ways of responding to the question of what will happen to P-chan. The arguments become passionate, but the debate about life and death never becomes improbable, and offers an insight into a child’s way of looking at the world, the ways they try to grapple with responsibility for another living thing. The children’s characters are allowed to emerge gradually through their different relations to the pig and their ideas about its future. It is a fine ensemble performance and a child star is notably absent.
The adult cast also puts in a strong performance, with Mieko Harada particularly attractive as the sympathetic principal who supports Mr Hoshi in his unconventional educational experiment. Parents are very much on the fringe, but there are some good cameos, not least from one father, a pork butcher, who tries a matter-of-fact approach with his son about P-chan’s fate. Then there is the regular pork chop in the children’s bento boxes every lunchtime, a mundane object that becomes endowed with huge significance as the children think about where it comes from.