Friday, February 27, 2009
Running time: 100 min.
Reviewed by Bob Turnbull
I'll be honest...I had some concerns going in to "Quill". Though I love dogs, this had all the potential to be a sappy and tear-jerking story about a little puppy who grew up to be a seeing-eye dog. The pretty plinking of an acoustic guitar in the early moments of the film didn't help alleviate my fears, but fortunately everything turned around pretty quickly after that...
Made in the same year as the violent "Blood And Bones", director Yoichi San begins the film by gently guiding us through several episodes of the apparently real story of a young pup named Quill. An entire litter of pups is earmarked by their owner to become guide dogs, but she is warned that it's a long process and that likely only one of the five can be used. It is finally determined to be Quill when he is the only pup that doesn't immediately come to its owner when called - he is waiting to see what all the fuss is about. This makes him a perfect candidate to learn new behaviours and to avoid panicking while working with anyone who is blind.
Once chosen, Quill is sent off (his first "parting") to a young couple who specialize in raising pups through the first year of their lives. They are called "puppy-walkers" and are the ones who give Quill his name after the black blotch on his otherwise beautiful golden coat. We soon learn that the woman of the couple is actually the narrator and we get to share numerous little episodes as he quickly grows. If this doesn't sound overly exciting, it's because it isn't. It's extremely charming though and very amusing at times. The early shots of the puppies are simply lovely (without being overly cloying) and we get to enjoy these stages of boundless energy and enthusiasm. There's an especially cute scene when he gets his first toy - a squeaky bear.
This all leads to his second "parting". From the young couple, he moves to a training centre for guide dogs. Though we stay with Quill, we also begin to learn a great deal about the training of guide dogs and the incredible discipline that must be instilled in them. San doesn't shortchange the details (for example we discover that many of the commands to the dogs are in English since Japanese might be too confusing for them), but he still manages to keep things moving. This is a strength of the film as it keeps it entertaining, light and well paced even though not a great deal actually "happens". The story shifts a bit as Quill is finally assigned to an owner - the cranky Mr. Watanabe who initially refuses to have a dog even though he is the head of the local society for people with disabilities. The relationship between dog and owner becomes the heart of the film and even as it threatens to become a bit schmaltzy, the tone of things remains sweet. The narration of the story has now shifted to Watanabe's eldest daughter as she steps us through his initial resistance, his gradual acceptance and then to a final third parting.
San seems to have an eye for capturing the dogs behaving naturally and the footage of the puppies is simply wonderful. Through his camera and the tight editing and solid acting of the entire cast, San has put together a delightful story. If you love dogs, you will love the film. If you don't really care for dogs, you still may love the film.
Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.