Starring Kippei Shiina and Kaoru Kobayashi. Rated general. In Japanese with English subtitles. Now playing at Cinemark Tinseltown
It's a dog's life, they used to say. But what does that mean, exactly? The Japanese family film Quill sets out to answer that question, in detail, by following the full journey of one particularly fulsome Labrador retriever. The animal in question, starting as an adorable puppy among a veritable sea of to-die-for puppies, is a blond lab called Quill because of an odd mark on his otherwise monochrome coat. This distinguishing doodle allows us to separate our pup from the pack, and also allows for a number of different dogs to play Quill over the course of his lifetime, from toddling infant in the garden to grizzled old-timer recalling a well-spent existence.
Although we see our hero learning the basics from a pair of "puppy walkers" who raise him until his first birthday, by far the most screen time is spent with Quill's training as a seeing-eye dog. His young trainer (Kippei Shiina) sees talent in the unusually patient canine and eventually matches him up with a middle-aged blind man (Kaoru Kobayashi) who is initially resistant to the idea of being dependent on a dog. Quill changes that, of course-although his own family still finds him pretty crusty.
This may sound like a recipe for tears and laughter-and, indeed, director Yoichi Sai (All Under the Moon), working from a novel of the same name, isn't embarrassed by bathos, especially at the end. But most of the film is told in documentary fashion, with more emphasis put on the steps to train a guide dog (all the commands are in English, sort of: "straight-a-go, right-a-go") than on emotional back story. The result is a warm-hearted, visually charming, and ultimately thought-provoking tribute to the ways, little and large, that these creatures improve our lives. But what have we done for them lately?