Puppy love aplenty in 'Quill'

LIZ BRAUN - Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:36 AM ET

PLOT: A Lab puppy spends one year with the 'puppy walkers' and then grows up to be a seeing-eye dog. The dog gets paired with a grumpy guy. Both man and dog benefit from the experience. Viewer leaves theatre scratching head.

It's tough to argue with a movie that features close-ups of Labrador puppies. Still, the Japanese feature Quill is one of the strangest dog movies this viewer has ever encountered.

Five darn cute pups are born. They tumble and play. It's noticed that one has an odd dark spot in his fur, a little mark that looks like a bird. And so 'Quill' is the name given the dog. Quill is special. The dog owner wants Quill trained to be a seeing-eye dog and she pesters the dog trainer (Kippei Shiina) to take Quill on.

To that end, Quill goes off to live for one year with a couple who are volunteer "puppy walkers." The woman (Shinobu Terajima) is very fond of Quill and shows him everything from snakes to cherry blossoms. It's sweet and very weird.

After that, Quill goes to the training centre, learns how to be a seeing-eye dog, and then gets paired with a grumpy guy who snaps at his wife and children. Quill is unhappy. You can tell, because the dog has a dream about his old squeaky toy, a stuffed bear. A dog dream sequence is sort of an arresting notion, and don't bogart that joint, my friend.

Somehow, Quill melts grumpy guy's heart, though how the dog solves the other family problems -- sad wife, bed-wetting child, etc. -- is left unexamined.

Quill is a story about accepting change and adjusting to what life brings. Each time the dog is taken away from what he knows and loves in order to move on to the next phase of his canine life, the narrator's voice reminds you that this is Quill's first or second or third separation. It's sad initially, but he adjusts. The last act of the film involves the passage of time for man and beast, and could be described as heartbreaking. It made some viewers sob; we laughed hysterically, but couldn't say just why. It could be because Quill has subtitles, and reading them sometimes breaks a movie's magic spell. Or it could be because Quill is seriously wacky, with its over-the-top performances and dog dreams and all.

Any dog lover can tell you that bizarre features notwithstanding, Quill is lovely to watch; it's a picture kids will really go for, though you'd be a fool to take a child to Quill if you're hoping to avoid the whole can-we-get-a-puppy-please-please-please-please-please-pretty pleeeeeeeeeease argument.

Because you would lose that argument.

(This film is rated PG)


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