The Tale of Princess Kaguya – Film Review

Princess Kaguya is found by a bamboo cutter inside the stem of bamboo plant. Assuming it’s a gift from the heavens, he and his wife take the child on as their own. They then plan to organise a wetnurse, which seems like drawing a long bow sing the child magically appeared inside a tree and may not even be human. Walking across a log bridge in the forest, the old man’s wife suddenly pauses and miraculously any vestiges of her post-menopausal state seem to vanish as she removes her own breast from her blouse and begins feeding the baby.

Now you don’t get that kind of behaviour in a Disney film! (A young boy also gets punched multiple times in the face later in the film, just for stealing a chicken.)

Then again, this is a Studio Ghibli film directed by Isao Takahata who brought us perhaps one of the most harrowing animated features ever with Grave of the Fireflies – a film following two children in the nuclear fallout of the bombs dropped in Hiroshima during WWII. So, subtlety and quirky woodland creatures is not the order of the day for The Tale of Princess Kaguya.

Whether Kaguya is indeed a princess, is something that is debated constantly throughout the film, through the conviction of the bamboo cutter and his wife, against the sceptics who come to question how a child born in a bamboo shoot could possess regal blood. Nevertheless Kaguya does everything within her means to enchant potential suitors with her koto playing, while presenting her less attractive side for those she does not wish to be pursued by.

She is certainly an industrious and creative bamboo child. She would be a blessing to have as a daughter. She is polite, well-humoured and pretty. But she is an independent modern bamboo child. A rebel even. So for her woodcutter parents, who want nothing more than for her to be married, she looks destined to live a single life tormenting those who desire her affection.

Takahata has cleverly captured the complexities of a rebel who still suffers from her own insecurities about her appearance, while displaying a confident veneer. Kaguya’s desire to remain independent is juxtaposed against her quest to find a place where she fits in. The child, born of a bamboo tree to barren parents in a traditional patriarchal society of Japanese villagers; she is certainly an accurate representation of young adults.

Perhaps if bamboo sticks were involved more in childrearing, the world would be a better place. (Bamboo sticks used for birthing royal babies; i.e. not for beatings.)

Top 10 Places to Avoid This Summer Holidays

Teachers across the Northern Hemisphere are closing their stationery cupboards, and kicking their feet up on their cheap laminate classroom furniture to sit back sipping martinis. A peaceful silence rings through the empty corridors. The incessant nattering of playground banter is now a distant echo haunting the rooms and bed chambers of family homes. A final sip of the martini glass, and empty vodka bottles in the bottom drawer of the desk, signal it’s time for heading into the real world to make the most of this month long summer break.

One foot places itself down on the concrete pavement outside the school grounds, and it hits; it’s like school never ends. There are kids everywhere!

  1. Footpaths

Like a mob of un-herded cattle escaped from the top paddock, children struggle to have any special awareness when it comes to making space for other pedestrians on the sidewalk. No matter the width of the path, those kids will find a way of filling it. They travel in mobs to boost their self-esteem. If one of them drops behind the main group, or has to step off the pavement to make way for another passer-by, it could be months before they are restored to their original social rank within the gang. Unless you want to be responsible for a young person becoming a societal outcast, keep your feet on the kerb.

  1. Museums

Sure you like dinosaur bones. You’ve liked them since you were a kid – but that’s the very point. Kids love dinosaurs and they are now swarming the corridors of the museums. Yes, they’ve spent the last 11 months bundled up in classrooms learning how to read and write. But now they want to do some real learning to find out why diplodocuses didn’t eat meat; how many Romans stabbed Caesar in the back; and how many croutons in a Caesar salad.

  1. Buses

No one likes public transport at the best of times. But at least if you have the opportunity to catch a bus in the middle of the day, you will normally get a seat. Not during the holidays. The bus is usually the cheaper mode of transport for the penny-pinching youths. In some cases they even get a free ride. Meanwhile, you’re sitting there listening to, their over-amplified earbud headphones pumping out the latest facile drone from The Vamps; unmodulated melodrama from a bunch of teenagers; or the inane chanting of ‘Hail to the Bus Drive Man’ from the local day care group who are off to the Science Museum (which you were supposed to be avoiding, à la point 9)

If you’re really lucky you’ll witness some good old fashioned hoodlumism. I once witnessed a group of young girls verbally laying into a tramp who was sitting quietly at the back of the bus. It escalated into him shouting at them, “I fought for this country” and having to storm off the bus. It’s easy to have a go at a homeless war veteran when your parents are paying for your bus fare.

  1. Airfares

Business is business. Airlines over-inflate their prices during the peak travel period during summer holidays; so it’s best to sail or drive to your end destination. Also, next time you’re banging on about teachers having too many holidays, just remember they’re slowly bankrupting themselves buying hyper-inflated air travel. Spare a thought for this all too common first world problem as you sit in your four-weeks-annual-leave-per-year vinyl office chair. Life is cruel.

  1. Shopping Malls

In the immortal words of the Lano and Woodley song ‘Shoppin’ Town’ it says, “We hang around here every Thursday night, every Friday night and Saturday morning too. We stand around and think of smart-arsed things to do”. Guess what? It’s summer holidays (plus it is sale time at Westfield), so this is going to happen 24/7. There’s no ‘cooler’ place to be than the vast consumerist wasteland that is the hallowed halls of the global corporate overlords. You know that feeling of intimidation as you walk past ashen faced gangs of teens standing around and saying nothing as they leer at you with their vacant eyes – a penny for their thoughts would be a waste of your spare change, even if you’d just been to the 99p store and had copper-plated disc spilling from your purse.

  1. Children’s Hospitals

Visiting a sick child in hospital is a generous use of your time. But when the Sun’s shining and the rest of the family are anxiously waiting for the child to get the all clear, so they can set off on their holiday to Ghana, the concern for these little people is amplified. Normally they’re missing out on school, so there’s silver-lining. But when they’re missing out on making memories, it hits home. So maybe in this case do go to a children’s hospital. At least you may cheer a kid up, instead of them just getting in your way.

  1. Summer Camps

I spent the last two summers teaching English at a summer camp. Numerous people lead summer camps across America. It’s a great way to meet people from around the world and exchange culture. You get paid to do adventure sports, go swimming and generally have a swell time. But all the while there are the children. You never switch off. If you are the chosen one, they’ll come knocking on your door at 3am with soiled pyjama pants. Is this how you want to spend your summer? Giving these whipper-snappers the time of their life? Who’s going to pour cordial for you? The sun will be back behind the clouds by the time that happens.

  1. Beach

The Beach Boys warned us, “won’t be long until summer time is through”. Yet do you want to spend that summer at the seaside where you could get caught in the crossfire of a sand boondie fight; buried under a mermaid-shaped sandcastle while you sleep; or mauled by a baby covered in melted soft-serve? Choose wisely. But make sure you get in when there’s a window of opportunity otherwise it will be, as The Beach Boys also warned, “Summer’s gone, summer’s gone away, gone away”.

  1. Theme Parks

Theme parks are super-fun. But two hours in a queue to ride Space Mountain (and that’s using the fastpass) seems like an excessive use of time that could be spent reading Calvin and Hobbes comics on the beach. Plus you’ll be stuck in a queue making small talk with the same person you’ve been travelling with for the past five days, while being surrounded by ten-year-olds who forgot to relieve themselves before joining the line. If you’d visited the park during a school day you’d have had the place to yourself and probably be sitting in Sleeping Beauty’s castle by now, sipping bottles of Gurgleurp with Donald Duck.

  1. McDonalds

Further to Lano and Woodley’s previous lyrics, their song ‘Shoppin’ Town’ also insists, “We went to Maccas, and all went spaccas, chucked our pickles on the wall, and Peter MacNeil laughed so much he spewed”.

Alternatively you’ll be subjected to the gluttonous behaviour of Japanese teenagers having “potato parties”.

Perhaps even worse, the far corner of the restaurant will be occupied by thirty or more five-year-olds being catered to by a “fully trained party entertainer” as an over-indulged boy named Anthony enjoys his McDonalds’ birthday party.

As the ominous smell of rehydrated fried eggs enters your nasal passage, you’ll be reminded of all the great summers you spent as a kid eating fast food, hanging around in shopping centres, riding rollercoasters, body boarding down the beach, rollerblading in parks, getting stuck in trees, excitedly watching the city skyline from the bus window, caring for your friends, and building cubby houses from furniture. You didn’t notice the crowds back then. Maybe it’s time to get back to having, “fun, fun, fun, in the Sun, Sun, Sun”.

The contents of a teacher’s drawer

What confiscated items are in your drawer?

There’s a hacky sack in mine. Two in fact. One generic one, and one commemorating the World Cup Brazil 2014. I remember confiscating them. But I can’t remember which belonged to who. Both children are now claiming the Brazilian one. I tried Solomon’s ‘split the baby’ method. Neither of them cracked. Perhaps the bond between them and the hacky sack was not as strong as a baby and its mother. Or perhaps these children are sociopaths and enjoy seeing each other’s toys destroyed. The hacky sack remains in my drawer.

There are at least ten different writing implements. Some more collectable than others, like the pencil with Disney characters embossed in gold paint. Some are less valuable, like the zebra printed retractable pen. These were all confiscated for being used at the wrong time in the wrong way (probably incessant clicking when I was trying to talk). Plus all the erasers flesh out the collection of back-up stationery. These will never be used by myself or the students. I only write in pen and the students are not allowed erasers, because they tend to use them as a work avoidance tactic; rubbing the page endlessly until there is no pencil marks left on the page, and a 5mm indent has been made into the workbook. This being the case, the erasers must remain in the drawer for time immemorial.

A Justin Bieber ruler has been in the drawer for four years now. It was never confiscated. It was simply abandoned after class one day, and nobody ever claimed it. Either their fandom had waned or they had more self-respect than to admit publicly to ownership of a Justin Bieber ruler. One can’t help but think it ironic that there are measuring devices with Bieber’s face on. It’s doubtful he’s ever had to measure anything except for perhaps how long the length of his hair is. Plus in typical Bieber fashion the ruler has been over exposed (the numbers are mostly faded), cheaply produced (in Taiwan) and doesn’t measure up to expectations (at 15cm long you can’t even rule a proper margin down the page).

I confiscated lip balm in the hallway once. That went in the top drawer. “It’s to stop my lips cracking,” the ten-year-old I took it from told me, while kissing her teeth.

“I understand,” was my response. “But I don’t understand why it is fluorescent purple”.

When she came to retrieve the lip balm a week later, it was gone. Presumably someone else had pilfered it from the drawer. Or perhaps it was just caught up in all the other rogue items stuffed in there and had disguised itself as a pencil sharpener. Either way, I never heard the end of it. Every time I bumped into the girl in the hallway, she reminded me that I owed her three pound to pay for the replacement of the lost lip balm. Luckily a friend who is a chemistry teacher gave me a container of lip balm she’d made with her Year 11 class. I passed it onto the girl three months later. She didn’t notice the difference.

However, the same did not apply when I lost a miniature finger skateboard, back when they were ‘cool’. The untimely tail stops, ollies and Godzilla flips led to the handing over of this prized possession. So prized in fact that it was not in the drawer when I returned the following day. No doubt stolen by an envious peer, if not by the student who owned it; just to make a scene. He made no end to the complaints that his mother had spent ten dollars on the fingerboard, and how would they ever afford to replace it. I couldn’t replace it. I didn’t know any chemistry teachers who made finger skateboards with their Year 11 class.

The following week he arrived in class with a miniature finger scooter. This too was confiscated, but placed in the office safe until it was returned at a later date.

There are other things in my drawer: handmade pea shooters, blue tack, five unopened packets of chewing gum, notes passed between students, a bottle opener, wristwatches and a five pence coin.

What’s in your drawer? Please comment below.

How we should speak with children

Sitting on the bus this morning, I could overhear a mother jabbering away to her young daughter of about three. The daughter didn’t have much to say, but the mother kept on.

She asked questions about how long their bus ride would take; where she thought all the people lining the streets were going (they were going to the Chelsea Flower Show); what flowers she liked the most; what she would like to do when they got to the Science Museum; whether she could remember when the Science Museum opened.

She told her daughter about what the girl’s sister and father would be spending their day doing; her own conversation with a taxi driver, the day before; what she thought would be happening at the Chelsea Flower Show.

The mother spoke with her offspring as an intellectual equal.

The daughter sat quietly most of the time, gazing intently out the window to her city, then providing simple one word answers to most of the questioning. Her answers were plain, but she was being exposed to a world of language, thoughts and most importantly engaging with the world around her.

To provide our children with access to their world is tantamount. That they can provide answers to adults’ complex questions, gives them confidence. Interacting with space and time in a real world sense gives children solid grounding for their understanding of numbers when they attend school.

Sure the young girl’s main priority was arriving at the museum to learn about science and blow bubbles.

Yet the mother’s priority was to make every minute count; every moment an experience; every thought special.

Love your children. Love Learning. Love Life.

How to do roll call

You’re trying to do the class roll call and all you want is a “present” or “here” and you get one of these chestnuts:

“hi”

“what?”

“bonjour”

“huh”

“tutti” (Punjabi for shit)

“goodbye”

“ciao” (inappropriate in a teacher student situation in Italian as well as English)

“here” (delivered in a deep aggressive voice)

“here” (delivered in a moaning voice)

“[Insert student’s name]’s not here today” (delivered by a chorus of students)

“You’re saying it wrong”

“poobum”

“blergh”

“here” (delivered in a high pitched voice)

(long silence, followed by you assuming the student is absent and calling out the next name.) “Sir, Geraldine is here!” (You ask why she didn’t respond the first time and where she is now, because you can’t see her.) “She’s hiding under that pile of cushions while she finds her reading book”

“good afternoon” (when it’s 9am)

“good morning” (when it’s 1pm)

“good evening” (despite the fact you would have never qualified as a teacher if students were going to be present during this part of the day)

“what?”

“hi-diddly-ho”

How to silence the noisy kids

“There’s no low level disruption. There’s just disruption.”

These were the wise words from a learned teacher who had been around the traps by the time I worked with her. It’s a point well taken for most teachers; or for that matter anyone who enjoys calmness and tranquillity.

Many a teacher has probably been on the verge of self-diagnosed tinnitus only to find it was the clicking of a pen. The banging of a chair leg causes a sweat to break on an educator’s forehead. The rattle of a pencil pot causes one to lose focus completely.

Some days a student will chat, and chat and chat. Constantly. They’ve been asked to stop numerous times and don’t. They’ve been handed punishments, discipline and dirty looks. Some teachers have even been driven to use sticky tape to bind their students mouths shut (although using a stapler would probably produce a more satisfactory result).

Still the student persists. It’s like a jackhammer of nonsensical whistling, muttering, asides, interruptions and nosiness that beats on the concrete shell of the adult’s delicate brain and slowly unravels years of teaching practice, careful lesson planning and sensible thought process, into a resolute hum of white noise, which leads to the supposed leader of the class questioning their very existence within this universe.

At this point it’s best to shut your eyes.

Don’t respond.

Don’t say a thing.

Take a deep breath in.

Give a deep breath out.

Take a deep breath in.

Give a deep breath out.

Open your eyes.

You are calm.

Ask everyone else to stop and join you in being calm.

Sit in silence for at least one and a half minutes.

Unless a student sets fire to a desk, do not talk.

Sit completely still and they will follow.

If after two minutes this hasn’t worked, then you’re screwed.

Kid #4 – Calming your farm

The fourth kid I hated had two weeks left when I met him. Two weeks left of school. Not two weeks left to live.

He supposedly had a mechanic’s apprenticeship in the works. Until then, the law of the land stated this 16 year-old needed to be in school until some form of employment that offered training was available. The difficulty for him was that he couldn’t organise his way out of a cardboard box, so it was taking a while to arrange his exit to the garage.

He was cocky and arrogant. He didn’t cut his hair. His pants hung around his knees. He probably smelled. He was hiding his incompetence behind his bravado.

The other children in the class saw him as a hero and a nuisance and would often join in the general defiance and disruption. But on the days he was absent they would say things to me like, “Aren’t you glad he’s not here?” or “Don’t you wish he would just leave?”. This of course gave little solace as the fear brewed waiting for the delinquent’s return the following day.

He enjoyed a bit of nose-to-nose intimidation with staff members. It was always hard to decide whether to respond with an aggressive Eskimo kiss (sic Inuit kiss); or a UFC head butt. Choosing neither I would quietly ask him to return to his seat. He did not like the passive approach and would reply with the usual, “Make me,” or turn to the class and say, “Look at this guy. He can’t even control the class”. The shouting approach was equally futile as he would claim, “You can’t speak to me like that,” or “Calm your farm” (a phrase that to this day curdles my blood – due to its illogical nature. I understand the calm bit, but what was the farm referring to? Was the class the farm? If so that didn’t make sense, because it was already calm except for this certain individual; Was my mood the farm? That didn’t make sense either because how could one emotion of anger be a metaphor for a collection of dairy and wool producing livestock; or was the farm referring to an actual farm? A farm I had subconsciously purchased the deeds for and now blocked from my mind and financial records).

The metaphorical farm was finally calmed when this child managed to get his apprenticeship approved. Or perhaps he became a truant. I didn’t care to know.

Often in these circumstances teaching staff may feel a sense of having failed the child in that final transition stage from child to man child.

I felt relief.

I don’t doubt life was hard for this vestigial over-indulged teenage foetus, but if we met again I doubt I’d pay for him to service my car.

Nobody likes a bully. Not even bullies.

If the bully bullies, who is bullying the bully?

It’s the age old question that provides little comfort to children.

When we’re bullied as a child or adult, we are led to believe that the bullying is a by-product of that person’s own insecurity. But it’s very hard to overcome this and be the bigger person. Often the bully is playing on our own insecurities and more often than not we walk away with our self-esteem dented and a desire for vengeance.

It’s hard enough for us adults to address bullies with empathy, sympathy or pity; let alone to expect children to do the same with their oppressors.

Whenever I was bullied as a child I tended to violently dislike those children who treated me with contempt. I was told these children were probably victims of bullying and had other issues that meant they were taking their frustrations out on me. This didn’t make me like them more; and further to this point many of them, to my knowledge, grew to be abhorrent adults. Or maybe I’m just good at holding a grudge.

Is it possible to say then that some people, whether they are a child or adult, are horrible people from whoa to go?

Whether you’re a kid hating a kid or an adult hating a kid, perhaps it’s due to an inherit personality defect of the target of your hatred. Not a lack of empathy on your own part.

Kid #3

The third kid I hated was a curly-haired greasy-faced racist who once exited halfway through an English class to walk forty minutes through the 40 degree Australian heat to his family home that was locked because everyone was out.

I disliked this 15 year-old mostly because of his stupidity and Palaeolithic form of communication with his fellow human.

But most of all it was the generic racism he applied towards the indigenous population of his country. If you want to see an example of how racism is different to educated opinion, grab yourself a pubescent fool from your nearest redneck backwater.

It was upon screening the film Jindabyne to a Year 10 English class that the racism, of him and his peers, came to the fore. Jindabyne is about the fallout from a community dealing with the murder of an Aboriginal girl and the discovery of her body.

The main thing the student buffoon and his comrades took from the film was that “Aborigines are dole bludging alcoholics who hang out in parks” – albeit none of the characters in the film bludged the dole nor drank any beverages in public reserves. So clearly these visions of the indigenous race had come from the teens’ bigoted parents.

I combatted this racism by pointing out that a number of their peers were Aboriginal or of foreign background; thus at the least they were being short sighted about their own associates. This fell on deaf ears so I brought in the school’s Aboriginal Education Officer to speak with them. This was a man they respected and loved. So of course their racism cooled off when they were put in this situation. They were no longer so prepared to blow off with their small minded views. I enjoyed watching them squirm as hopefully they realised their racist remarks were ill found.

Despite this calming of the situation and hopefully a refocused approach to the discussions surrounding race in the English lessons, I was still loath to spend time in the same space as this child. Nothing gets my blood boiling more than blind racism from a youth or adult alike. The boy and his mates had seen it got my blood boiling and had deliberately gone out of their way to drop racist remarks, which led me to be so frustrated with them.

Thankfully with the help of the Aboriginal Education Officer the situation between myself and this blockheaded teenager became diffused, but if we met again I doubt I’d share my Valentine’s chocolates with him.

Kid #2

The second kid I hated was an overweight teenage girl with body image issues and a personality complex. She was also a bully; A bully to students and staff a like.

One morning lining up for class she announced to another classmate the following, “Did you watch Desperate Housewives last night?”.

She then shot a sideways glance at me. What may appear to be an innocuous statement to most, seemed to be a loaded statement to a committed Desperate Housewives fan like myself.

This was then followed up by another comment, “Did your dad cut your hair?”.

The second statement, not directed at anyone particular, was clearly a reference to my hair (which had in fact been cut by my father), and more to the point was a reference to a Facebook fan page, one of my friends had set up as an ironic joke. Unfortunately teenagers don’t do irony particularly well.

Thus was the end of my Facebook fanpage – which I immediately request be shut down – and the beginning of a long riding standoff between myself and this monstrosity of a child. Every single comment she made was vile. Every request to do work was meant with contempt and vitriol. The girl would wallow in misery and every attempt at positivity by her friends was beaten down with a foul look or a snide remark about their family or face.

Unfortunately there was no redeeming feature about this child. The school management were not interested in bringing her into line. She never completed any classwork. She never smiled without malicious contempt. She really was quite hateful.

The biggest difficulty was that her twin brother was wheelchair bound and by all accounts terminally ill. The one time he turned up to school he appeared to be as hateful as her. How many exceptions should be made for children in this position?

Some I’m sure. But everyone at the time seemed to sidestep the issue. If I had my time again I’d address the elephant in the room head on and request the necessary counseling and support be put in place for her and her truanting brother.

When the people we love are gone, we are still here. She was being a short sighted teenager and her grief probably cost her an education.

But if we met again I doubt I would share a cheeseburger with her.