Title: Quill: The Life of a Guide Dog
Music Box Films
Director: Yôichi Sai
Screenwriter: Shoichi Maruyama, Yoshihiro Nakamura from Ryohei Akimoto’s novel
Cast: Kaoru Kobayashi, Kippei Shina, Kazu Matsuda, Teruyuki Kagawa, Keiko Toda, Rafie, Chibichibiku, Yuma
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 5/10/12
Opens: May 18, 2012
While “Quill: The Life of a Guide Dog” tells us about the way a guide dog for the blind is selected, trained, and lives with his human companion, the film is targeted to kids and to adults who are known to themselves and others as “dog people.” Directed by Yôichi Sai in a documentary style—so much so that viewers unfamiliar with the production history would swear that the project took twelve years to make—“Quill” takes us first into the world of yellow Labrador Retriever puppies, now considered even better than German Shepherds for guiding the blind, concluding with the title character’s death at the age of twelve years and twenty-five days. The dogs on display range from adorable puppies to large adults undergoing a rigorous testing program to see whether they can be released to the blind. The human beings under director Sai’s watch are all perfect save for a flawed blind man, Mitsuru Watanabe (Kaoru Kobayashi), who talks too loud and is resistant at first, stating that he’d rather stay home all day than be led around by “a mutt.”
The film can be safely recommended to the small fry, at least to those who can read, and for some of the young ones in the audience, this could be their first experience with a foreign language movie requiring viewers in the U.S. to read the English subtitles. The only time English is actually used in the story is for the commands, such as “come,” “go,” “sit,” “down,” and “curb” because the trainer believes that Japanese, spoken by all people around the dog, would be too confusing.
Korean-Japanese director Korean-Japanese director Yôichi Sai, whose movie “All Under the Moon” deals with a Korean taxi driver living in Japan, and “Blood and Bones,” about a cruel, greedy man who had moved in 1923 from S. Korea to Osaka, Japan, forgoes the themes of violence and romance of the human variety to deliver Shoichi Maruyama and Yoshihiro Nakamura’s sentimental screenplay about the love of disabled human and faithful dog.
So-called because of a bird-shaped mark on his left side that may remind some of Gorbachev’s head, Quill, from a litter of five, is selected for guide-dog training because he hesitated before obeying the command of “come,” allowing him to be considered a thoughtful canine. He is separated from his initial family, picked up by dog trainer Satoru Tawada (Kippei Shina), and flown to Kyoto where he lives with a couple who raise guide dogs for a year. At the age of one he undergoes training where he is complimented for his willingness to wait for an extended time for the trainer, and is transferred to Mitsuru Watanabe (Kaoru Kobayashi), who becomes the blind human companion to the Lab. When Watanabe, a diabetic, becomes hospitalized with kidney failure, the dog leaves him for two years doing demonstration work. The story concludes with two events that could conceivably be too tearful for some tykes in the audience.
Throughout most of the film, Rafie portrays the title character while Chibichibiku is the adorable puppy and Yuma as the Lab in his final year. People like me who like their canines small but not “girlie” might hope that yellow Labs could remain puppy size for life. You cannot blame an audience for thinking “aww” while considering Chibichibiku while reserving profound respect for the good work for which Rafie is so patiently trained. CG is used only near the conclusion, showing the aging Lab now played by Yuma slipping on a step and breaking some bones.
Unrated. 100 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B-
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B