Oh, if only the school bully could be so easily turned in real life.
The great Ryu Chishu stars as a kindly and even indulgent teacher, who seems rather at odds with the strict and regimented school atmosphere at the time in Japan. He seems the ideal supporter for a backward boy, Kanta, whose parents are new arrivals in the town. The teacher encourages his boys to treat the new lad well, and Kanta gradually shows hidden talents, such as being able to make perfectly spherical clay balls.
But the arrival of another new boy, Kinzo, heralds change. Kinzo is a clever bully who ruthlessly manipulates Kanta and makes much fun of him. The teacher refuses to discipline Kinzo, instead insisting that things will work out well.
Much of the narrative covers the developing relationship between these two boys. The cruelty that children wreak on each other is shown in excruciating detail, and I found it hard to watch the backward Kanta allow himself to be continually put upon by the scheming Kinzo.
Kanta even helps out when Kinzo stuffs up, just as the teacher predicted. Thus, Children Hand In Hand manages to combine the gritty reality of poor schools in post-war Japan with an unbelievably optimistic picture of faith in man's good nature triumphing over baser instincts.
In short, very watchable and never dull, though rather hard to credit. I saw a fairly good print of this film at this year's Japanese Film Festival here in Sydney. One rather credible Japanese audience member asked, without irony, if it were a true story. I stated that it was very unlikely, as I had never seen a school bully so readily turned.
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