Mipo O’s award-winning film intertwines the stories of three characters struggling in lives of emotional isolation or caught in patterns of abuse.
Featured picture © 2015 ‘KIMI WA II KO’ SEISAKU IINKAI
Being Good (2015)
Director: Mipo O
Starring: Kengo Kora, Machiko Ono, Chizuru Ikewaki, Kazuya Takahashi and Amon Kabe Screenplay: Ryo Takada, based on stories by Hatsue Nakawaki
Running time: 121 minutes
A rookie primary school teacher struggles to control his new students, an isolated mother harms her own daughter and a woman with dementia befriends an autistic boy in this powerful study of human connection.
“O’s direction generates a steadily mounting undercurrent of dread and builds to a soaring climax.”
Winner of the NETPAC Award at the Moscow International Film Festival as well as the Grand Prize Jury Award for Best Film at our own 2016 Toronto Japanese Film Festival, Mipo O’s Being Good was among the best of its year. If you missed it the first time around, you’ll have another opportunity to catch this exceptional film as part of the Japan Foundation Toronto’s winter screening series.
Based on Hatsue Nakawaki’s omnibus novel, the film loosely intertwines the stories of three characters struggling in lives of emotional desolation or caught in cycles of abuse. In one thread, elderly Akiko (Michie Kita)—slipping into dementia with no family around to notice—is caught shoplifting after forgetting to pay for groceries. Her lonely and humiliating decline is softened when she befriends an autistic boy. The boy’s mother is perpetually embarrassed and apologetic for her son’s existence, but when the shoplifting incident leads her to meet Akiko, her perception begins to shift.
Newly graduated schoolteacher Okano (Kengo Kora) is struggling to maintain control in his first classroom. One boy wets himself because he is afraid to ask for permission to use the toilet, a shy girl is tormented by other students—and, most concerning yet, he begins to suspect a child of being the victim of parental violence and neglect. In his attempts to remedy this Okano himself nearly becomes a victim of violence in a confrontation with the boy’s father. An interaction with his sister’s young son brings comfort and the possibility of a solution.
With her husband abroad, Masami (Machiko Ono) takes on the full-time responsibility of parenting her three-year-old daughter Ayane. But Masami lacks the emotional resilience for the task. She is over-whelmed and, having been a victim of abuse as a child herself, begins beating her daughter—completing a cycle of generational abuse. She spends her afternoons in the park with Ayane’s friend’s mother, the kind but unsophisticated Yoko (Chizuru Ikewaki). As the abuse escalates Yoko begins to suspect there is a problem.
Of the three stories it is Masami’s that is most affecting. Ono’s performance as the desperate and emotionally hollowed-out Masami is riveting and the scenes of violence against Ayane are rendered all the more excruciating for the sense of terrible suffering we feel in both the victim and the perpetrator.
Kindness and human connection are the only ways to counter isolation and cycles of abuse. This seems like a simple message but director O delivers it in a thoughtful and elliptical way. She states: “People who suffocate in their ‘family’ can be saved by someone who is not ‘family.’ And when that moment comes, people can feel compassion for ‘family’ again. Yes, this might be the ideal thinking, but I’d like to believe it is so.”
O’s direction generates a steadily mounting undercurrent of dread and builds to a soaring climax. But she withholds catharsis. When Okano assigns a special project to his students he elicits responses that weave a beautiful and hopeful montage on the importance and diversity of families. But that hope is shaded with the knowledge that so many remain hurt, isolated and at risk of visiting their abuse on a new generation.
Being Good will be screened on January 7, 2018, alongside The Vancouver Asahi as part of the Japan Foundation Toronto’s Japanese Movies at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema series.