A high school teacher

Mark Schilling schill
Sun Aug 23 22:53:56 EDT 1998

From: Mark Schilling <schill at gol.com>
To: kinejapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu
Subject: Koko Kyoshi
Date: Monday, August 24, 1998

Dear Martin Beck et al,

Here's my JT review of Koko Kyoshi, which should contain most of the facts
you are looking for. Sorry, I wasn't quite as high on the movie as you seem
to be.

Mark Schilling

Koko Kyoshi (High School Teacher) (11/30/93)

Produced by Tokyo Broadcasting System; screenplay by Shinji Nojima;
directed by Ken Yoshida. With: Toshiaki Karasawa, Kyoko Toyama, Anju
Suzuki, Keiko Oginome. Running time: 105 mins. 

When it was soaring to the top of the ratings, the TBS drama *Koko Kyoshi**
(High School Teacher) produced an impact beyond that of the usual hit show.
Though aimed at a teenage, mainly female, audience, it ventured into
territory previously forbidden to prime time fare with subject matter that
included rape, incest and homosexuality. But most thrilling of all to its
young viewers was its frank treatment of  a love affair between a troubled
high school student, played by Yukiko Sakurai, and her troubled PE teacher,
played by Hiroyuki Sanada.
     We now have a film version of *Koko Kyoshi,** with the same director
(Ken Yoshida) and scriptwriter (Shinji Nojima). But instead of answering
the question posed in the show's final episode -- did Mayu and Kazuki
commit shinju (love suicide)? -- and continuing their story, it covers some
of the same ground as the TV drama, with different twists. 
      It also gives us new faces in the main roles; the tall, ethereally
lovely Kyoko Toyama is now Mayu and the broad-shouldered, smolderingly
handsome Toshiaki Karasawa is Kazuki. This change seems not to have
bothered *Koko Kyoshi** fans; the movie has become a must-see for many of
the same teens who boosted Sakurai and Sanada to TV stardom. 
      But though the movie goes farther than the series -- there are still
things that can't be shown even on Japanese TV -- it is a modern updating
of a traditional theme: forbidden love and its tragic consequences. 
       Because the love in this case is between a mature man and an
underage girl, *Koko Kyoshi** treads a dangerous line. One step in the
wrong direction and it becomes yet another exploitation flick, appealing to
the types who buy schoolgirls' used undies from vending machines. It
doesn't take that step; there is not one leer in the entire movie. If
anything, *Koko Kyoshi** goes too far in the opposite direction. The love
between the two principals is impossibly pure, their story, cliched
melodrama. What begins as a psychologically insightful, visually
imaginative trip down the back ways of love becomes a trudge down a
familiar path. Nojima may have never scripted a TV drama that rated under
30, but Chikamatsu did this kind of thing better.  
      The film wastes no time entering the danger zone. The teacher, a
former rugby star who quit the sport after tackling his best friend in a
game and turning him into a vegetable, discovers a student at his all-girls
high school in the act of shoplifting a toothbrush at a convenience store.
But instead of doing the expected teacherly thing -- giving her a shocked
look and a lecture -- he sidles up to her, swipes a toothbrush himself and
whispers "Let's get out of here!" The girl runs from the store in
embarrassed confusion, with the teacher close behind. Once outside, he
smilingly tells her "We're in it together now" and tosses her his stolen
prize. Relieved and suddenly bold, she tells him her class and name: Mayu. 
       The teacher, Kazuki, is in no mood for dallying, however; he is
still in mourning for his friend and angry at himself. Mayu also has a
past. Her mother died giving birth to her and her father, an elite
businessman, never forgave her. When she was six, he struck her so hard
that she lost the hearing in her left ear. Now he lives in London and,
though he pays for Mayu's room and board at the school dorm, never calls or
sees her. She keeps a picture of him -- with the face torn out -- above her
      Yoshida reveals this later in a series of flashbacks. At this stage
in the film, however, all we know is that this gangly, beautiful teenager
has a crush on her teacher. One day,  she follows him home, a mischievous
smile on her face. Kazuki spots her, invites her in and tries to rape her.
She resists until, ashamed, he finally relents. At this point most
teen-agers would no doubt find the shortest route to the door. But when
Kazuki storms out of the apartment, Mayu puts on his clothes to replace her
torn dress and smiles in a different, strangely satisfied way. Now that she
has found her way into his life, she wants to stay. 
       The story, we realize, is Mayu's; it is she who first sees into the
heart of her teacher's loneliness and pain (it resembles her own). And it
is she who directs the course of their relationship (Kazuki is too lost to
care). We see how she does this in a key scene that is the strongest in the
film. After Kazuki hears that his friend has finally died -- his sister
(Anju Suzuki) disconnected his life-support system -- he finds his way to
the school pool. There, in a drenching rain, sits Mayu; she has been there
for hours, watching over his gym bag. This sight touches Kazuki -- and he
breaks down in a frenzy of grief and guilt. Then, as he is proclaiming
himself a murderer for the tenth time, we see Mayu behind him, standing
naked, with that same strange smile. She dives into the pool and Kazuki
follows. There, in the water, while the rain pours down, they dance a
waltz. They are no longer teacher and student, or even man and woman, but
two lost souls who have found each, reeling in a precious space beyond
society's morals and mores.
     Their idyll does not last. A music teacher who also serves as Mayu's
dorm mother (Keiko Oginome) makes life miserable for the girl; a spying,
sadistic horror, she stands for the forces of convention that crush the
spirit. Kazuki must also face the real world in the form of his friend's
sister, a clinging, scheming woman who wants him to resume his rugby career
and take her into his life. Mayu and Kazuki try to find refuge in each
other, but they cannot resist the forces that are tearing them apart. Here
the film takes a turn toward TV melodrama and dissipates its emotional
energy. As I watched it run through its standard changes, with the usual
paraphernalia of guns, knives, car crashes and body bags, I regretted
opportunities lost. 
     Kyoko Toyama, however, is a find; she perfectly embodies her
character's precocious wisdom and fugitive charm. Though her Mayu is no
Lolita, I have the feeling that Humbert Humbert would have enjoyed her
performance. I know that, as the patron saint of Japan's roricon (Lolita
Complex) brigade, he would have found her country a paradise. 

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