Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Quill: The Life of a Guide Dog

As cute as he is, Quill is a dog with a role in life.  By virtue of his intelligence and empathetic intuition, the golden retriever will become a guide dog for the blind.  His eventful dog’s life is lovingly depicted in Yoichi Sai’s Quill: the Life of a Guide Dog (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Out of a litter of five pups, Quill is the shrewdest.  His owner wanted them all to become guide dogs, but only Quill makes the grade.  As a result, he will experience his first parting, leaving his puppy home to live with the Isamu and Mitsuko Nii, a couple who care for prospective guide dogs until they reach the age training commences.  Considering how the Niis dote on him, Satoru Tawada’s training kennel requires quite an adjustment, but again Quill adapts.

Tawada has Quill in mind for Watanabe, the irascible chairman of a local nonprofit support organization, but the middle-aged man is resistant.  Of course, Quill wins him over, but Watanabe’s health problems will complicate their time together.

Sai once served as an assistant director to Nagisa Ôshima on In the Realm of the Senses, a film about as dissimilar to Quill as one can possibly imagine.   Not afraid of a little manipulative sentiment, Shoichi Maruyama and Yoshihiro Nakamura’s screenplay hits all the dog-lover bases good and hard.  However, Quill’s adorableness at all ages is an undeniable ace in the hole.  By the time the aged Quill comes full circle back to the Niis, even the brawniest of men will find themselves getting choked up.

No question, the canine cast is truly endearing, with the film’s trainer Tadami Miya maximizing their cinematic charm.  The human ensemble is also rather pleasing, including Teruyuki Kagawa (recognizable from far darker Japanese imports, like Tokyo Sonata and the 20th Century Boys trilogy) and Shinobu Terajima (unforgettable in Wakamatsu’s disturbing Caterpillar), who are genuinely touching as the Niis.

Featuring a sensitive soundtrack by the Kuricorder Quartet, Quill has a gentle, humane vibe not unlike the work of Kore-eda.  Though Sai’s film has been kicking around the festival circuit since 2004, its belated American release coincides with the dramatic increase in the social and commercial organization of U.S. dog lovers.  Frankly, post-Marley and Me, it has enormous crossover potential.  Recommended for canine fanciers and Japanese cinephiles, Quill opens this Friday (5/18) in New York at the Cinema Village.