You Are a Good Kid / Being Good
きみはいい子 「Kimi wa iiko」
Release Date: June 27th, 2015
Running Time: 121 mins.
Director: Mipo O
Writer: Ryo Takada (Screenplay), Hatsue Nakawaki (Original Novel)
Starring: Kengo Kora, Machiko Ono, Chizuru Ikewaki, Michie Kita, Mei Kurokawa, Kazuya Takahashi,
One of the most important lessons I took away from being a teacher was the idea of being a guardian. An important part of our role is to care for the well-being of our students, to consider their personal circumstances, and emotional needs as well as educational ones. These responsibilities make the role slightly analogous with being a parent. It is a weighty responsibility but gratifying when you genuinely help someone. You don’t need to be a teacher or a parent to care for others. The simple act of caring can save lives. Being Good (2015) shows why.
Mipo O and Ryo Takada followed up their last collaboration, The Light Shines Only There (2014) with this adaptation of the book Kimi wa ii ko (You’re a Good Kid) by Hatsue Nakawaki. The source, winner of the 2012 Tsubota Jōji Literature Award, is a collection of five stories set in the same town. The film rolls some of the stories including Santa no konai ie (The House where Santa Doesn’t Come) and Beppin-san (Pretty Girl) into one multi-strand film where everything joins up at the end. All of the stories in the collection are about child abuse or people suffering loneliness.
Things begin with Tadashi Okano (Kengo Kora), a novice elementary school teacher and a decent and diligent young man. He faces a boisterous class of kids every day at Cherry Hill Elementary School, some of whom have been bothering Akiko (Michie Kita), an elderly lady suffering from mild dementia. She lives an isolated life in a house which she inherited from her parents. Some of the kids have been ringing her doorbell and running away. Akiko likes the distraction especially since she gets involved in social problems thanks to her declining mental health and loneliness. Tadashi still has to apologise, another reason he finds the cheeky kids tough but, despite this, he perseveres. As he gets to know his young pupils he gradually awakens to the problems of bullying inside his class and abuse at home. Soon, he notices that one of his students, Kanda, might be being abused at home and decides to help.
Meanwhile, across town, there is a girl named Ayane who is being hurt by her own mother, Masami (Machiko Ono). With a husband working on an infrastructure project in Thailand, Masami has to raise Ayane alone. Her method is severe discipline but that slips into abuse as a shout or a smack turns into a tirade or a barrage of blows. Masami can’t help lashing out and she tries to justify her abusive behaviour by thinking that the other mothers she knows treat their kids the same way. However, there is a reason for Masami’s behaviour – she was raised by abusive parents herself and she still bears the physical and emotional scars.
These stores start on a negative note and seeing them play out can be harrowing as Mipo O slowly digs into these tough subjects. She films everything with astuteness, setting up storylines and themes that come to fruition later. With careful scene placement, we get a message early on and a sequence that offers a demonstration, Masami has a mysterious physical tic that makes absolute sense later.
Scenes are intimate, getting into the minds of characters by catching looks or utilising distance and movement to keep the camera tracking around a scene so that we see where a person fits in when it comes to the company of others – cowed kids at the front of the class anxiously glancing back at tormentors as teachers talk about bullying. The whole person, mind and body, is on show. The more we are with them, the more we understand them and feel for them. That flinch in Ayane, the moment a child as young as her throws her arms over her bowed head in expectation of a blow, that is heart-break fuel. The look of horror and self-disgust on her mother’s face as she hurts her own child is equally powerful. The small smile Akiko has when someone talks to her contrasts massively with the forlorn look on her face when she is alone in silence in her house.
These disparate stories, linked in the theme of abuse, soon evolve to show how collective kindness can help those on the brink of falling into darkness. Empathy, a hug, a kind word. Those little things that bring us back into society and let us know we’re not alone. Those are more powerful than all the fighting in Marvel movies and it shows that the real superheroes in life are those that can help others out of genuine concern, friendship, and love.
Akiko’s life changes little by little by communicating with a handicapped boy from the school. Her loneliness dissipates and she connects with an unexpected person and helps them out. Okano has to work up the courage to confront Kanda’s abuser but at this point he has grown as a teacher. Others have to be brave and breach social boundaries. Masami’s friend zeroes in on the problem because she recognises the signs of abuse. A hug, the type that prevents a person from escaping and thinking, and a confession, breaks down Masami’s barriers and allows her to confront her own demons. Mipo O rewards the viewer and this emotional scene by flooding the world with colour and showing life returning. We get the point and it’s brilliantly made.
Despite the subject, it is a softer title than the dour but eventually beautiful The Light Shines Only There (2014) but it features an ensemble cast giving an equally fantastic set of performances with and there are two fine actors returning from The Light Shines Only There: Chizuru Ikewaki and Kazuya Takahashi are a couple again but this time it is a loving one. Kengo Kora provides a fantastic and the rest of the ensemble all do well in portraying people you could imagine making up a community. Due to their down-to-earth performances and the normal shooting location of Otaru, it is easy to relate to everything on screen and see how abuse can cause a ripple that spreads across generations and society and how that ripple can be disrupted by a simple action such as a pat on the back or buying lunch. Seeing someone under pressure and about to crack get that relief is gratifying as the characters learn how to feel good again thanks to the goodness of others.
If that sounds over-sentimental, don’t worry. Mipo O’s direction is restrained and favours realism, analytical, more interested in getting into the issues and showing how to resolve them. There are no easy answers. What works best is finding a way to connect and those simple scenes of human contact are worth more than all of the fireworks that Hollywood can conjure up. It kind of ends on a note that reminds me of the South African saying, it takes a village to raise a child. Watching this film, it is easy to see it in action. Being Good shows that we should all set an example for others and do as the title says, be good.