School Days with a Pig

The movie I just watched on Okto, ‘School Days with a Pig’, tells of a new elementary school teacher in Japan who wants his students to learn “the real connection between life and food” by challenging them to raise a piglet for a year and, well, consume the animal at the end. You can watch the homemade review below which actually contains some of the more crucial scenes from the show.

Review: School Days with a Pig
by John Endo Greenaway (original link here

Within two minutes of the opening credits of School Days With A Pig, one can pretty much forecast the upcoming conflict, which essentially boils down to this universal quandary: how does one raise an animal, care for it, and then kill it for food? Because it is filmed in a documentary style, one forgives the lack of dramatic tension. Instead, the movie relies on the audience’s ability to empathize with the characters and their dilemma, and in this it succeeds admirably.

The film begins with Mr. Hoshi, a young and energetic grade 6 teacher (played with sweet earnestness by Satoshi Tsumabuki), bringing a piglet to school. The goal, he explains to the school administration, is to raise the pig throughout the school year and then eat it at the end, in the process teaching the students the connection between life and food. Despite some misgivings, the Principal (Mieko Harada, who plays a small but significant role in the film), gives her OK to the experiment.

Before you can say “this little piggy went to town”, the students have named their new classmate P-chan, built her a pen in the schoolyard and are up to their elbows in pig poo. They also begin to forge a bond with P-chan that can bring nothing but heartache in the end.

Somehow, the fact that one can see the inevitable crisis coming a mile away doesn’t take away from the either the charm or the emotional core of the film. This is due in no small part to both the young cast, who are uniformly excellent, and the director (Tetsu Maeda), who manages the trick of taking a true story, fictionalizing it, and having it come across as a (mostly) true story. While stretches of the film are clearly being played out for the benefit of the camera, others—specifically the scenes played out in the classroom—have the ring of authenticity, which in the end is its greatest strength.

In several key scenes, the students debate P-chan’s fate, and it is here that the heart and soul of the film resides. Watching the debate rage across the desks while the handheld camera tries to keep pace, conflicting emotions come into play for the viewer. On one hand it seems unfair to place such a weighty decision in the hands of grade six schoolchildren. On the other, one can’t help but feel that this is a truly authentic education that the students are receiving, as far from the dull world of textbooks and worksheets as one can possibly get. If the experiment treads a fine ethical line, the payoff is in the response of the children. They take their challenge and responsibility seriously—both in terms of raising the pig and deciding its fate.

Before long, the class is divided into two sides: those who can’t contemplate killing, let alone eating P-chan, and those who argue that they should stick to the original plan. As one boy says, “She’s our friend, but when we started to raise her, the promise was to eat her. I think we should keep that promise and eat her for her sake.”

Where the film succeeds best is drawing us into the world of the children, and seeing this life and death scenario through their eyes. The adults quickly become secondary, and indeed, the principal deflects the concerns of parents and other staff members, asking them to trust the students and their teacher, who himself keeps to the periphery as much as possible.

As the school year draws to a close and a decision must be made, the stakes grow higher and it is hard not to get drawn into the increasingly emotional debate. The decision comes down to giving P-chan to a grade three class that has offered to adopt the pig for the coming year (which some students argue means passing the responsibility to their younger, less capable students) or sending her to the slaughterhouse.

Tears are shed as the students wrestle with the notion of playing God. All of them, no matter what side of the debate they stand on, have come to care deeply for their adopted friend, and it is heart-wrenching to see them take the weight of the decision on their slender shoulders. When one girl asks, “Mr. Hoshi, who decides the length of life?” the issues of both mortality and morality are brought to bear with the kind of directness that only a child can summon forth. The concept of responsibility is brought up again and again by both sides of the debate. As one boy says, “Since we began raising her, we should be seeing her through to the end of her life.”

School Days With A Pig is based on a controversial event that took place in Osaka, Japan in 1990. While it is difficult to know how close the film stays to the original story, it’s really not all that important in the end. The film is not without its flaws, occasionally slipping into the maudlin sentimentality and cutesiness that the Japanese have perfected, but is succeeds on most counts, and I’d recommend it to both families and educators, or indeed anyone who has ever struggled with the kinds of issues raised in the film.

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3 thoughts on “School Days with a Pig

  1. I think it is a brilliant and excellent way to bring up the issues of both mortality and morality, where the adults can see how these issues are brought up only by the pure courage of a child.The concept of responsibility is brought up again and again by both sides of the debate, i would support the view of passing on and rearing the piggy P-Chan onto the next junior class, at the end of the day, as long as with the guidance of teachers, the children today should learn how their food come from, and learn to connect and really care for animals. The struggle between our survival and the kindness to not kill the animals (especially pigs) for food, is a very difficult moral vs survival decision. Now we do not really care much about pigs chickens cow and ducks etc, but what if one day we run out of these poultry and these sources of meat becomes as rare as shark fins? will we den only regret for not learning how to care for animals, not only due to the lack of meat for sustainability, but also depriving our children or the future generations of educational trips to the farm?

    Now that the children these days still remember how do chicken and pigs look like, will they in the future only remember the frozen processed meat or eggs that are packed in boxes and comes from the supermarket? Like how i went to a childcare center, i asked the kids: “where do chicken come from?”. they answered me, “buy from McDonald!”. This lack of knowledge in the children, not only surface the lack of understanding and exposure of the children to the real world, it also serves to amplify how the future generation will continue to consume food without considering the cruelty behind obtaining the food source, especially poultry. This highlights the fact that the current society and education system should allow the children to be more exposed to nature, and also animals, not just cute ones, but all kinds of species of these animals. the visits to zoos and farms, will be an enriching and fulfilling trips to engage the younger generation, learning about the cruelty behind these slaughter house. so maybe one day, we will all become vegetarians and survive in a harmonious relationship with the animals, not to trap them in cages but have them running in the wild.

    And thus, there is really a need for children, not only adults, to learn to face with issues of morality and mortality from different points of view, and addressing them in the best and least harmful ways to mankind as possible. so….can A4 raise a pig in the school too? =)

  2. As much as I think pigs are cute, I do know that when there is a need for survival, we need sustenance, so should we still not eat it?

    I think that the question here should be that if the children did not rear the little pig by themselves, would they still be so altruistic to note that the life of pigs are more important than human life?

    Talking about life, even plants have lives, even they have feelings—a research i read about says that when you treat your plants with more love and even let them enjoy music, they would grow better. So are we not going to eat fruits and vegetables as well?

    The issue here is that, yes we may love animals and have the whole animal protection etc, but when it comes to survival, it would be a battle between humans and other living things. Come on, even animals eat animals—–Tigers prey on lambs, on deers, etc.

    Therefore, as much as I would love animals for their cuteness and all, what’s more important is human life.

    In this show/context, I would think it as an exception to this whole survival concept. Because emotions and hard work was put in to rear the pig, therefore there is such controversy in eating it. In this case, I feel that with love can surpass most temptation, but that is only if you love the particular animal( you have already taken it as your pet(s) ), like owners of dogs won’t eat dogs, but some people in China do eat dogs–maybe not their dog (pet). It depends on how you look at it.

    One may not eat its own pet, but he or she may eat other animals’ meat.

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