The film covers the time period of 1928 through 1946 and occurs on a small island in Japan's Inland Sea.
The film opens showing various views of life on the island. (The background music sounds like it's an Irish song to me.)
Their teacher is leaving the island to get married.
The out-going teacher explains about her replacement teacher.
The new teacher (Oishi) rides past on a bicycle and gets stares from everyone.
The new teacher, on the left.
She gets her first grade class lined up to start the school day.
Some of the village woman are talking about the new teacher in an uncomplimentary way.
She has her class out pretending to be a train.
The teacher's house. (It's a fifty-minute bike ride from there to the school). She also talks about how much work at home the kids, even in first grade, have to do.
The village women don't like her.
The boys find a seashell and Oishi runs to see what it is but falls. She ended up cutting a tendon.
The kids are planning on visiting her but they don't really understand how far away she lives. They also don't bother to tell their parents they are going.
Gradually more and more people get involved in looking for the kids. The kids, meanwhile, are finding out just how long of a trip it is they have undertaken. They're tired and hungry.
They finally spot her on a bus. She gets off and they immediately surround her.
Oishi and her mother feed the kids at their house.
A picture is taken (and that's her entire class that came to see her.)
The principal thought she'd want to transfer to a school she could get to by bus by she says she promised the kids she'd return and she is able to get to the school by boat.
She tells them she's transferring to another school. She will see them when they get to sixth grade.
Five years onward.
This refers to the incidents in China that were a part of the Japanese attempt to take over China. This started around 1931 and saw some of the worst atrocities by the Japanese army, particularly in the city of Nanking. The film also makes reference to the world-wide depression that basically began when the American stock market crashed.
Her former first-graders come to see her, hearing that she is going to get married.
One of Oishi's students has a mother that just had a baby, but then the mother died. The father says the girl needs to drop out of school so she can take care of the baby.
O.k. This part doesn't make any sense. He's saying the baby is premature? The baby the girl is holding certainly doesn't look premature by any stretch of the imagination.
The "premature" baby dies.
She enters the faculty room and finds out one of the teachers has been arrested for supposedly being a Communist.
The teacher and his students had produced a book that the authorities thought was anti-war. Oishi had read the book and her students had read parts of it in class.
The principal burns the book.
The principal talks to her after she talks about capitalists and communists in her class. The girl whose mother had died ends up being adopted by someone and taken somewhere else.
Oishi is on a boat trip with some of her students and some other students.
They pass another ship that her husband is on.
They are on a sightseeing tour. Something seems to be wrong with Oishi, though.
She finds her former student working as a waitress.
Another one of the girls comes from an extremely poor family and they're being kicked out of their house soon.
Another one of the girls is planning on quitting school. She's going to have to stay home and do housework while her mother fishes and her younger sister goes to fifth grade. The girl who sings so well is being forced by her mother to alter her plans for school.
She gets called into the principal's office again.
He wants her to toe the official government political line.
The sixth grade is graduating.
She talks to her husband and says she's fed up with teaching. (She's also pregnant.) A couple of students come to visit her and one says he's quitting school. The other tells her about another one of her students who moved away with her family and could end up becoming a beggar. She has made the decision to quit teaching.
The teacher visits one of her former pupils. Another one of the girls had gotten married, the student says. Another pupil is now a teacher. Another one went to a mid-wives school. The girl also says she doesn't have very long to live. She has TB and her parents refuse to even see her.
By this time Oishi has had three kids. Her former male students have become soldiers. Her own husband will be leaving for the army relatively soon.
Four years have passed.
Later still. She tells her eldest son that her husband has died.
Her girl has fallen out of a tree. She ends up dying.
She's returning to teaching. A few of her students are children of her former sixth graders. She also visits the graves of some of her male students.
Some of her former female students throw a party for her.
They give her a bike which was just what she needed.
Five of the girls are there and two of the guys, one of whom is now blind.
The movie is rather long at over two and a half hours. It's a slice-of-life type of film even though it covers almost two decades of time. It's interesting, it shows a lot about teaching in rural areas of Japan, and it really covers the lives of its characters.
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