Being Good film review: A poignant tale of adults and children struggling to be ‘good’.

Being Good film review by Tom Smalley

The isolated characters of Japanese Director Mipo O’s latest film, Being Good, are connected thematically, rather than literally, by the struggle to be ‘good’ in their disparate lives.

Primary school teacher, Tasuku, finds it difficult, even, to control his rowdy class, let alone deal with the needs of one particular pupil whom he suspects is being abused at home.


Meanwhile, Masami, a young mother raising her daughter alone, is unable suppress her violent temper, punishing three-year-old Ayane excessively for the smallest transgression. Conversely, Ayane herself struggles to understand how she can safely navigate and behave to avoid her mother’s rage.

The themes of this film might sound suffocating but, whilst emotionally fraught, Being Good is a film that breathes life; alongside unflinching depictions of neglect, abuse, isolation and desperation, there is warmth and humour, as well as a refreshing willingness to mock its characters. And it is often these lighter moments that give the film its poignancy – this isn’t a film simply about individuals on the brink, it’s also about the people (and the wider world) around them. There is tragedy here, but there is also hope.

For all of its accomplishments, the biggest triumph here is that O’s film never presents the issues it depicts in binary terms; Masami is her daughter’s abuser, but there is also a sense that the violence she inflicts hurts them both; Tasuku means well, but his attempts to protect his students often make matters worse. Akiko, an elderly woman contending with the onset of dementia, seems the least able person to affect the lives of an autistic boy and his mother, but in spite of (perhaps even because of) her condition, she has lessons to teach them both.

Interestingly, the decision to translate the Japanese title, Kimi wa iiko (literally: ‘you’re a good kid’), into Being Good for its English language release, is a change that arguably better represents the scope of this film, as its adult characters struggle to understand the ramifications of their choices in situations where the ‘right’ choice is often morally ambiguous, just as the children wrestle equally with the very notion of what it means to be ‘good’ when there is no clear example to follow.

Being Good is part of the Japan Foundation’s touring film programme. For details on Being Good and the other films being screened around the UK from February – March 2016, visit the website here: http://www.jpf-film.org.uk

Photo: Mipo O, Being Good, 2015

Being Good film review by Tom Smalley

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