[From August Issue 2012]
Gakko (Directed by YAMADA Yoji)
Released in 1993, “Gakko” (School) is a human interest drama, directed by YAMADA Yoji, who is known for his “Otoko wa Tsurai yo” (It’s Tough Being a Man) series and “Kofuku no Kiiroi Hankachi” (The Yellow Handkerchief). Set in a night school that allows students who, for various reasons, were not able to graduate from high school, to complete their high school education, it depicts the personal growth of these students and their teacher.
KUROI has been teaching evening classes in a downtown district of Tokyo, which is tightly packed with small factories and houses. On a winter’s day, with that year’s graduation ceremony drawing near, he is called up by the principal and is told: “It’s about time you transferred to another school.” However, Kuroi declines the job offer, saying, “I would like to stay here so that students can drop in and visit us any time after graduation.”
That day during the lesson he gets the students to compose an essay about what they want to do after they graduate. As he watches them write, he recalls his first encounter with each student.
Among the students, there is Midori whose father is addicted to alcohol and has dabbled in drugs herself; there is Kazu, a young guy, who is managing to hold down both a manual labor job along with doing evening class; there is Chinese student Chou who, despite having a Japanese mother, is having trouble fitting into Japanese society; Omoni, a Korean living in Japan, who is a mother and owner of a yakiniku (Korean barbeque) restaurant; and there is Inoda, who loves horse racing, but has grown up without learning how to read or write.
Kuroi, not only teaches these “socially disadvantaged people,” but also treats them as a parent or friend would: he lets Midori into his house for a bowl of ramen when she is roaming the streets weak from hunger, and when he sees how Kazu often dozes off during class, he helps him out with his day job to find out just how physically punishing it is. The students in turn become deeply attached to Kuroi, as if he were a parent or friend.
After the essay class, when all the students are having supper in the cafeteria, a call comes through to Kuroi informing him of the death of Inoda, who has been in hospital. Having received a letter from Inoda which expressed his wish to return to school for his graduation ceremony, Kuroi had just conveyed this news to the students. Kuroi changes the next class to a homeroom session to tell the students about Inoda’s death.
After this movie, sequels were produced under the supervision of Yamada. “Gakko II” (1996) is set in a special school that helps students with disabilities. In “Gakko III” (1998) students, such as single mothers with disabled children, are depicted attending a vocational school. “Age 15 – Gakko IV” (2000), depicts a bunch of students who skip school to go on a hitchhiking trip. Various forms of school education and interactions between teachers and students are depicted in these movies.