Quill (Yoichi Sai, 2004)
Yoichi Sai's Quill is a screen adaptation of a novel about a real life "seeing-eye" Labrador. It was a hit when it opened in many Asian territories, even getting a Best Asian Film nomination in the Hong Kong Film Awards. In many ways, it is quite understandable why this Japanese film would gain so much popularity with its viewers. It's cute from first screen to the last, yet it doesn't put up antics to titillate the younger viewers ala Hollywood dog films. It is also very sentimental, yet it doesn't utilize unnecessary melodramatics to induce tears and sobs. Yoichi Sai has finally made a mature pet movie: one that paves events in a natural way without reducing itself to turning its animal actors into clowns or drama queens.
Quill is one of the five puppies of an ordinary Labrador mom. What makes Quill special from his siblings is that he has a black spot in his belly that is shaped like a bird, and that he is stubbornly intelligent. He is sent to training school, but is first kept by a couple until he turns one year old. In training school, he is paired with a grumpy old bling man, Mr. Watanabe (Kaoru Kobayashi), who at first dislikes the idea of being pulled around by a dog but later decides to get Quill as his "seeing-eye" dog
The humans in Quill merely serve as supporting cast for the dog, which is obviously incapable of communication except for cute stares and growls. Sai makes use of narrations by the female characters to impart the story of the dog, to great advantage. Although it might seem awfully like spoonfeeding especially when the narration is far too convenient when the visuals are already enough in dictating what is happening in the story. Also, the narrations seem to be a bit too emotional, which is really not a bad point since these narrations come from people who have been touched by the Labrador.
Quill is the type of film that is so easy to hate but you just couldn't. It dodges every opportunity to cheat tugging the heartstrings and instead utilizes the dog's story as the primary reason for sympathy. Moreover, Sai takes great lengths to accurately portray the process on how an ordinary dog is turned into a trained "seeing-eye" dog. It's truly an emotional journey for the dog and one can't help but feel for the animal, despite the fact that there is a sense of limitation to the emotional capacity the face of an animal can bring as compared to a human. Quill's partnership with the grumpy Watanabe might be a bit too predictable and Watanabe's sudden change from stubborn man to still stubborn yet more affectionate blind man is quite a feat for a mere "seeing-eye" dog, but then again, the film is really not about Watanabe but the dog, and the dog's journey is truly a heartwarming one.