Film Review: School Days With a Pig

BOTTOM LINE: There's very little meat in this dull and talky classroom drama about a pet pig.

Pusan International Film Festival
Asian Film Market

"School Days With a Pig" chronicles a one-year project initiated by Hoshi (Satoshi Tsumabuki), a Japanese teacher, for his sixth-grade class to raise a piglet at school and eat it on graduation day. The assignment, supposedly based on a real case, aims to teach children lessons on life and human responsibility on the food chain. This offers food for thought, but the downbeat delivery prevents it from being a fun-filled hit for all ages, like "Babe."

It is selected for competition in the Tokyo International Film Festival and could sell to Asian territories starved of children's films. Nevertheless, it is hard to comprehend what markets the filmmaker wants to drive this pig to. If they target grade-school kids, they will grunt in disappointment when they find that the subject does not speak with a human voice or have fun-filled adventures. If this is meant for an older audience, it doesn't go the whole hog in exploring the issues it just begins to raise.

The first 30 minutes of "School Days" present some mildly amusing episodes of a class of 26 children learning to raise P-chan, their pet pig. Casting real pigs instead of CGI, there are not a lot of activities the porcine protagonist can get his snout into; a soccer match is just about the most exciting it gets. The educational aspect of the class learning to share chores as a team is as standard as bacon in a club sandwich.

The film's main theme is the dilemma the class faces as they become attached to P-chan, but the time has come for it to go to Pig Paradise. The paradox that we need to respect life yet must eat to survive is played out in lengthy class debates. Multiperspective opinions are aired, but the scenes are shot by an unimaginative camera that just moves from one close-up to another as each character speaks.

Like the pro-life and pro-choice debate, nothing conclusive comes out except for rivulets of tears shed by the children. Even Hoshi's final decision fails to take the tepid drama to a stirring finale. The child characters, all given equal screen time, have no stand-out personality or even recognizable faces.

Cast: Satoshi Tsumabuki, Tomoko Tabata, Narushi Ikeda, Mieko Harado.
Director: Tetsu Maeda.
Screenwriter: Hirotoshi Kobayashi.
Based on an idea by: Yasufumi Kuroda.
Executive producer: Kiyoshi Banba.
Producers: Hirohisa Mukuju, Tadashi Tanaka, Kazuhiro Hirose, Kazuhiro Ogawa.
Director of photography: Takahito Kasai.
Production designer: Toshihiro Isomi.
Music: Shoji Yoshioka.
Editor: Kouichi Takahashi.
Sales agent: Nikkatsu Corp.
No rating, 109 minutes.
Production: Nikkatsu Film Studio, Django Film Corp.