Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Quill (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 
The Life of Quill, the Seeing-Eye Dog

If you wish to leave Captain America or India behind and take a trip to Tokyo, there is a new film by Yoichi Sai, based on the novel, "The Life of Quill, the Seeing-Eye Dog" by Ryohei Akimoto and Kengo Ishiguro. The film, based on a true story concerns Quill, a rebellious young Labrador puppy. It is evocatively photographed in rich pastel shades with tilting camera angles is suited for all ages, but its Disneyesque anthropomorphism, makes it almost more suited for young children. This would be fine and baransu no toreta (balanced) were it not for an odd despairing streak that runs throughout the film like a black thread. 

"Quill" is a thoughtful yet melancholic film that will have you smiling and crying in equal measure and perhaps this is the point.

Quill,  the puppy, is adorable. There is something in his chubby snub-nose face that suggests a Sumo wrestler. He is all fur and energy. We see him squirm and stretch and tumble on a mat and it is easy to attribute human qualities to this young one as he seems so ready for action. Right from the start, we know that Quill is different and because of a zooming and rapidly edited montage, showing various aspects of a house in Tokyo, we  witness the origin of a superhero here. This is no ordinary Labrador. This is Quill and he even has a natural-born hero's crest in the shape of a squirting ink pen to prove it.

Like all heroes, Quill has a dubious start, he doesn't follow much instruction; he wanders into the garden and gets bitten on the nose by a stinging black and red caterpillar. Quill becomes cross-eyed complete with flute sound effects and it is impossible not to laugh out loud.
But the film takes a bit of a dark turn when he goes off to a secondary training school and we witness the very sad moment when the young pup is wrenched away from his foster parents and placed in a barred pen. The food bowl slips from his paws and moves beyond his reach. There hasn't been a scene this sad since "Project Nim".

In school, he is under the care of an affable trainer. A bond develops. The trainer is eager to put Quill in employment but one wonders why, since the trainer is in such harmony with his furry pupil.

By chance, Quill is paired with Mr. Watanabe, (Kaoru Kobayashi) a sullen and emotionally impaired journalist. This gent is a real sourpuss. He makes no secret of disliking Quill and refuses to touch him. He brushes him harshly, almost making welts and steps on his paws, uncaring. Quill is undaunted and invariably wags his tail waiting with patience as he was taught. Over time, a friendship develops.

But otherwise Watanabe seems a thoroughly joyless character with no biped friends. Why on earth were they paired up in the first place?
This is one of life's great mysteries.

Quill also has a friendship of sorts with Watanabe's bratty son (Kazu Matsuda) who doesn't seem to do much except make weird faces and wear funny hats. The humans in the film with the exception of Kippei Shina as the trainer, are a bit uninteresting and unsympathetic. But I should remember that this film is from Yoichi Sai, whose earlier  "Blood and Bones" is about a mean and morally bankrupt  seafood merchant who brings nothing but sadness to all he touches.

It's a good thing that Quill is here and he embodies all the light you need. Children and dog lovers should take caution however. Some scenes make for a  Zen fusion of "Old Yeller" (1957) and are not for the easy tissue-reachers among us. 

Yet despite its occasional dwelling in despair, as if Lars von Trier had collaborated with Cesar Millan, "Quill" is a seductive film that illustrates a world that lives under the wagging sway of its wise canine teachers.
But fear not. The colorful affectionate artworks depicting Quill at the end credits are a refreshing green tea dessert that will dry your tears and lighten your heart.

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