Director: Yoichi Sai
Writers: Shoichi Maruyama and Yoshihiro Nakamura
Stars: Kaoro Kobayashi and Kippei Shilina
When Quill is born, he is a puppy that beats to his own drummer. His owner, wanting to do good, calls a Guide-Dog training facility to see if they would be interested in Quill or any of the other puppies from the litter. After performing a simple test, only Quill–named because of a black mark on his left back side–passes. He is taken to the home of a couple who volunteer themselves and home to train a dog for its first year of life. At the end of the year, the Guide-Dog facility takes the dog for its extensive training.
Quill is trained by Satoro Tawada (Kippei Shilina) and fails at some tasks and succeeds at others. But as time goes on, he develops into one of the better guide dogs. One day while training in the village, Quill and Satoro find Mitsuro Watanabe (Kaoro Kobayashi) in the local grocery. He is blind, a busy-body, and very demanding of his son. He is also prejudiced against dogs. Days/weeks later Quill & Satoro again run into Watanabe, this time on his way to City Hall to file a petition before the 3:00 PM deadline. Knowing how long it will take Watanabe to get to city hall with his slow pace using a cane, Satoro offers Quill’s assistance to get him there on time. Though initially reluctant to be lead by an animal, Watanabe relents and is guided, with Satoro’s assistance, to City Hall. Watanabe is exhausted by his exertion in keeping pace with Quill, but arrives to City Hall on time.
Finally it is time for Quill’s guide dog class to be introduced to their human companions and time for the companions to be trained to work with the dogs. Whether by chance or planning, Quill and Watanabe are teamed together. But the training does not go well. Watanabe is difficult, head strong, and typically not a warm and caring person. While other humans pass their exams with their dogs, Watanabe fails his. Eventually he learns respect for Quill and passes the exam. At home, Watanabe and his family must learn to adjust to life with a dog. His wife is fearful of large animals, while his son is initially jealous. But as time goes on Quill becomes an integral part of the family. What follows is the story of a family and how it deals with life’s challenges and the eventual loss of loved ones.
Though you know how this story will end since all life ends in death, how it gets there is a surprise. Some aspects of the story are very predictable and almost cliche, but there are others with genuine twists that add drama and tension. The story’s weakness is its dedication to focusing on the life of Quill at the detriment of his relationship with Watanabe.
The acting is decent. Kobayashi as Watanabe sometimes delivers his lines in the stereotypical stern Japanese martial arts master. As for the dogs who played Quill, they were universally good. Though the puppies really weren’t called to do much except be cute, they were unbelievably cute.
The film is well shot, and the setting in a small Japanese town serves the story well. As an American audience member, we come to always expect modern depictions of Japan to revolve around Tokyo and forget about the more rural areas.
Overall the film is quaint. You learn something new about guide dogs and Japan, but it does not leave a lasting impression.
Grade = C
P.S. Two points, one interesting and one humorous. First, the movie was originally made and released in Japan in 2004. For some reason it is now being released in the US. Second, I totally went into this film thinking it was something it was not. When I first saw the title I thought it was a US documentary. Before we went to the screening we found out it was Japanese. Five minutes into the screening we found out it was a feature and not a documentary. I totally decided to watch this based on the title and nothing more.