For the past three weeks, Film Forum has been running a special program of rare (and, in many cases, never before imported) Japanese classics… and, thanks to my busy schedule, I’ve missed every single screening. Tonight, however, I was finally able to make it out to see A Class to Remember, a delightful comedic drama (or is it a dramatic comedy?) from director Yoji Yamada.
Whether he’s following that lovable tramp Tora-san on yet another zany adventure or examining the decidedly unglamorous daily lives of low-ranking samurai, Yamada is always primarily interested in studying the intricacies of human behavior—and this 1993 award-winner may just be his definitive statement on the subject. The episodic plot revolves around a night school teacher that specializes in instructing the underprivileged and disadvantaged (including, but not limited to: a half-Chinese immigrant that feels like an outsider even in his mother’s homeland, a reformed juvenile delinquent struggling with an addiction to paint thinner, and a near-penniless day laborer that made it all the way to his fifties without learning to read). As he delivers what is supposed to be his final lesson before he is forcibly transferred to a new faculty, he reminisces about what he has taught his students (both in the classroom and outside of it)… and, more importantly, what they have taught him—how their unwavering commitment to their education and steadfast support of one another have continually inspired him. Gradually, the story evolves into a thoroughly engrossing meditation on the nature of happiness—of finding joy amidst sorrow and persevering through the most difficult of circumstances.
A Class to Remember is hardly groundbreaking (like a lot of Yamada’s work, it adheres to an extremely familiar formula)… but it doesn’t really need to be, because it has heart and charm to spare.