Child By Children

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Pusan International Film Festival, A Window on Asian Cinema

In Koji Hagiuda's "Child by Children," an 11-year-old is knocked up by her classmate and gives birth with the help of fellow sixth graders.

In the West, such a controversial subject would probably be examined as a social problem, and the film would focus on any psychological or medical damage the girl suffers. This is not the case with "Child," which celebrates the experience as a blessing of nature. Set in an idealized Japanese countryside, it aspires to be a jolly children's fantasy drama.

In Japan, "Child" is designed to grab viewers on opposite sides of the age spectrum. First, the film targets young readers of the popular manga from which it is adapted, and projects their dream of "acting grown up" onto the protagonists. Secondly, it offers adults a window into the mind-sets of children. Overseas, it piques curiosity as a commercial item of novelty value, but some viewers might find the idea of underage sex and pregnancy immoral or disturbing.

Haruna (Haruna Amari) watches Hiroyuki (Yuya Kawamura) pee one day and impulsively asks him to "press on" her. By the time she realizes her ballooning tummy has less to do with constant snacking than her missed periods, she's already five months with child. It becomes her class' best-kept secret.

To accept that this could happen right under parents' and teachers' noses calls for major suspension of disbelief. Hagiuda tries to attribute Haruna's naivete to the community's conservative attitude and devises a scene in which the new, city-bred teacher (Kumiko Aso) is reviled by parents for teaching sex education. It is harder to validate how the class delivers Haruna's baby as effortlessly as raising a stray puppy.

Hagiuda avoids sensationalizing the subject and makes the conception and birth take place off screen. Haruna is anything but a miniature Juno but rather an innocent girl-next-door with a peasant's toughness. He devotes more time observing the children's interactions, and showing how the incident became a catalyst for them to bond, assume responsibility and stand up to adults, who are depicted as not always right.

Cast: Haruna Amari, Kumiko Aso, Risako Ito, Yuya Kawamura, Ryota Obigane.
Director-screenwriter: Koji Hagiuda.
Screenwriter: Koji Hagiuda, Wakako Miyashita.
From the comic "Kodomo no kodomo" by: Akira Saso.
Planner: Naomori Maeda.
Producers: Hiroyuki Negishi, Yuji Sadai.
Director of photography: Yoshihiro Ikeuchi.
Art director: Kumiko Matsuo.
Music: Torima Shuugo.
Editor: Yuji Oshige.
Sales agent: Bitters End.
No rating, 122 minutes.
production: Bitters End/Picnic/Bandai Visual/Futabasha/Music On! TV

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