Gakko II, or The Learning Circle, is not a sequel to Gakko in the strictest sense. While Toshiyuki Nishida returns in this Yoji Yamada directed movie, he is not the same respected teacher that was introduced to us and we fell in love with in the original movie. The school's different too. Here, he plays teacher Ryu, and teaching in the Ryubetsu Handicapped High School, a school for the intellectually and mentally challenged.
It's a very different look and feel from the original. While it had fewer key characters to focus on, it didn't mean that the story would be less rich than the first. In fact, in terms of content and depth of the story, this one is a notch better than the first.
There are a few plot points running concurrently. Two boys from the school, Yuya (Hiroshi Kanbe) and Takashi (Hidetaka Yoshioka), leaving and embarking on a journey of bonding, bringing out the best in each other, and having to fend for themselves while being out in the strange world. There's also a look at a new teacher's inability to handle the highly volatile Yuya (yes, this kid literally shits and pisses in his pants), and of Ryu's road trip in search of our missing students.
The first movie had its premise look episodic with its different compartments for different characters, rarely crossing the line between one sub plot to another. Here, this constraint disappears as we venture into the vast outdoors with the characters, and even at one point, up into the air. And something to note, that Toshiyuki Nishida's Ryu isn't the infallible sensei as we would expect him to be (though I miss his nose picking teacher in the first), as he grapples with having to find a solution to handling his family problems, and the difficulty in connecting with his estranged daughter.
Oh, and is that Ayumi Hamasaki who opened the film in a less than 5 minute appearance as the daughter Ryu?