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Being Good follows a trio of stories happening at or near a Japanese elementary school. A new teacher, Tasuku Okano (Kengo Kora), fails to keep an unruly class in order but tries to help a neglected boy who has a hard time making friends. Divorced mother Masami (Machiko Ono), a past victim of parental abuse, routinely lashes out at her young daughter. An elderly lady, Akiko (Michie Kita), befriends an autistic boy who has trouble fitting in with his class.

Most of Being Good, the new film from director Mipo O, is distressing and may be hard for parents to watch. Every time we re-enter Masami’s apartment, we dread the violence that could result toward her daughter. Still, the filmmaker gets great portrayals from a natural young ensemble. Many of her long takes work beautifully. The body language and staging of these moments illuminate the power struggles involving the children and the parental figures we follow.

However, although the drama and tension builds to an emotional release, the final scenes of the film feel entirely false. Here, the bleary greys and infrequent score leave, as golden colours and swelling music enter. Being Good wants to end on a hopeful note, but without any transition between the misery and happiness, the abrupt conclusions seem cheap. The film, shot with a realist aesthetic, looks deeply into the struggles between adults and children. However, the payoff neglects the tough, affecting journeys we have already made with these characters.