Quick, name one Japanese movie. That’s not animated in any way, shape or form. And The Last Samurai doesn’t count. I bet quite a few of you had to pause and think about that, huh. Japan isn’t exactly known for its cinematic prowess. Out of the few films Japan does produce, some may leave you wondering how exactly you got to a climax of a woman crying and masturbating in the rain, while others will simply destroy your faith in everything you ever believed in.
However, I’m sure that quite a few of you thought of Battle Royale as the answer to my opening query. Battle Royale is the charming and heartwarming story of a group of high school kids who are taken to a small island and ordered to kill each other down to the last man. They are equipped with collars around their necks which will explode if they try to disobey, or will be used to kill everyone should a winner not be declared. This movie has somewhat of a large cult following, and will often make “Top 10 Favorite Movie” lists on messageboards across the internet. I actually did not see this movie until after I came to Japan, and after watching it…I honestly just don’t understand what the big deal is. A bunch of high school kids killing each other. Whoopee?
Perhaps part of my problem was that I found it a bit unrealistic. Within the film, many students, of course, are apprehensive about the whole battle to the death thing, but quite a few get into it and within hours have become professional serial killers. I mean, I didn’t particularly like high school myself, but I can’t possibly imagine picking up a gun/sword/mace/Britney Spears CD and happily mowing my classmates down.
Well, I found the film unrealistic until I came to this school, that is.
The ninensei just don’t get along. And by “don’t get along,” I mean that I fear they may break out the weapons and start killing each other, without any pretense of exploding collars or a psychotic Beat Takeshi. It really is that bad. One day, as I was walking through the sannensei hall between classes, the flashing lights of an ambulance could be seen on the school grounds. Before I could even think about why, one sannensei girl said “What, is it the ninensei again?” I asked her what she meant, and she explained, “This happens a lot. Someone gets into a fight, or someone gets attacked, and then the ambulance has to come carry someone to the hospital. Girls and boys! The ninensei are *always* at each other’s throats.”
As you can imagine, this isn’t exactly conducive for English teaching. Games and activities are a big part of English lessons, and these things usually involve dividing the students up into groups to play. Even making a group of four students is a challenge, because in a class, maybe one student will have just one other friend. The other 28 kids are bitter, mortal enemies.
I played a game in a ninensei class with Ms. Forehead 2 once. I asked the students to divide into groups of four, but the best they could do was pairs. Some mercenary kids didn’t even have a partner! Seeing that this wasn’t going to work, Ms. Forehead 2 took the liberty of combining kids. For the most part, her strategy worked. However, there was one group of four girls who looked like they were going to start beating the ever-loving-shit out of each other any minute now.
…And for those of you about to think, “Oh, Japanese schoolgirl cat fight. Niiiiiiiiice.” Let me head that shit off at the pass. First, they’re 14 year-old Japanese girls, which means that it would look like two 11 year-old boys slapping and clawing at each other. Second, and I think I’ve mentioned this before, but there is nothing scarier in this universe that a Japanese girl who has unleashed The Furies. Nothing. If I were a terrorist, and I had to choose from being interrogated by an unsupervised and very pissed off Jack Bauer, or breaking up a Japanese girl cat fight, I’d take my chances with Bauer.
We tried to play the game, but things would grind to a halt when I came to this girl group, and rather than take a stab at the answer, they looked like they wanted to stab each other. After a painful and agonizing delay, one girl would finally spit out an answer, and the other girls looked at her with scorn and contempt, as if she was the lowest human being on Earth. As if she’d broken into their houses, killed the family pets, and stole all their money. As if she’d stolen her boyfriend, fucked him for a week, and then dumped him to start getting paid for sex from the school principal. As if she was the one responsible for green-lighting the Gigli movie. Later, I was talking to Ms. Forehead 2 about that group, and she said, “Yeah…well…those girls really, really dislike each other.”
If you knew that in the first place, why the hell did you pair them together!?
It’s weird, because from the front of the classroom, all I see are 30 Japanese kids. To me, there’s no reason why they can’t at the very least work together, and there’s certainly no reason for the unbridled blood lust. Of course, it doesn’t work that way. It didn’t work that way when I was a school kid either. I certainly had my fair share of enemies throughout junior and senior high.
The Ghetto School had its fair share of friction. Things there were divided by the good students, and the bad ones. The bad students generally made school, and subsequently life, not fun for the good students. Aside from an impossible learning environment, the good students were constantly bullied. But this was all one-sided. And the good students seemed to hate the situation more than they hated the kids who made for it. Most of the good kids took on the “just suck it up and ganbare!” attitude that permeates Japanese society.
This school’s situation was different though. More than kids misbehaving because they knew they could, somehow, someway, these kids just flat-out hated each other. And it was nothing like bad student versus good student, it was just student versus student. It was this that gave the whole situation an added sense of alarm. Like, things were going to explode one day. All I could do was to hope I wouldn’t be around when it did get out of hand.