Quill Yoichi Sai

Giving the lead role in a film to a canine has proven time and time again to be a steadfast way to pull on the heartstrings of a viewer. Check the list: Homeward Bound, Benji, Old Yeller, Shiloh and Otis even stole the film from Milo in The Adventures of Milo & Otis; it's a sure-fire winner. Quill is irrefutably another champion and is possibly one of the smartest, most realistic dog films ever made, without, you know, resorting to documentary.

In fact, for a lot of Quill there is such an intimate look at the existence and development of the Labrador-turned-guide dog that much of the time it feels like you're watching a Japanese documentary. The film tells the full story of Quill, a puppy born with a distinct birthmark and picked early on to become a Seeing Eye dog. Sent to a "puppy walker" until his first birthday, he is then sent to guide dog school and trained by Tawada (Kippei Shiina), a firm yet loveable man whose enthusiasm with the word "Gooooood!" is hilarious. Through the tests, Tawada finds Quill a potential owner in Watanabe (Kaoru Kobayashi), a crusty, stubborn blind man who doesn't believe in guide dogs. However, he quickly learns to love and rely on Quill in a long and pleasant process, and even gets a personality adjustment thanks to his newfound partner.

However it's not all Frisbee catching and Kibbles N' Bits - Quill touches the heart on many different levels, even the lamentable ones. Yoichi Sai's docu-style gives a warm, natural distinction, focusing on the profound details (i.e., meticulously picking up the dog's noises, including his adorable snoring) and giving Quill character through his maturity and training without resorting to schmaltzy narration or cheap delights. The obvious moments, such as the fun with toilet paper, the sore confrontation with a caterpillar and the side-splitting daydream featuring Pea the squeaking bear, are simply charming supplements of comic relief to complement the inevitable tragedy.

Beautifully shot, with affable characters and a top-notch dose of realism, Quill is a movie that can tame even the hardest cynic, including the evil, heartless cat lovers out there. (Capri)