Quill: The Life of a Guide Dog is a Japanese film based on the true story of a Labrador retriever pup, so named because of the unusual marking on his flank that resembles a bird. We first meet and fall in love with him as an adorable puppy, who is chosen as a candidate for guide dog training because of his calm nature and thoughtful demeanor. He spends the first year of his life in a loving foster home, where he is lavished with toys, praise and attention, and given a solid foundation in positive human interaction. At the end of his first year he is sent to school to learn to be a trusted companion for the blind. Not all candidates ever fully realize their potential, and many are culled from the program. Quill, on the other hand, exhibits the kind of temperament that stamps him as an excellent seeing-eye prospect. In order for a guide dog to succeed he must learn to be oblivious to distractions such as food, toys and other dogs. Quill must learn to navigate busy streets and obstacles such as steps and corners. He must learn that he not only needs room to accommodate his body width when traversing busy intersections, but he needs enough room for his human companion as well. (Interestingly, all the audible commands are given in English because the dog needs to distinguish the sound cues from Japanese speakers who surround him on crowded sidewalks.)
Quill shines as a superbly trained seeing-eye companion, and a loveable sidekick, so we’re a bit disappointed when he is paired with the irascible Mr. Watanabe (Kaoru Kobayashi) who informs us that he “would rather stay at home than be dragged around by a mutt.” Predictably, he softens over time, and the two become dependent on each other for practical and spiritual purposes. They nourish each others body and soul.
Quill is a drama that has the feel of a documentary, or perhaps a documentary that feels like a drama, so it’s a bit of a hybrid. Notwithstanding, this is a film that divorces itself from a biased point of view, and simply allows the main character Quill to do what dogs do best and that is to demonstrate unconditional love. How did we humans get so lucky to have these amazing creatures adore us? We can only hope that, like the T-shirt says, “we’re the kind of people that our dogs think we are.”
This film is subtitled “The Life of a Guide Dog,” so we see Quill run the gamut from joyous puppy-hood, to valued service dog, to failing senior, and experience disability, aging and death in the course of a canine lifetime. Don’t say you weren’t forewarned. I give it 3 ½ hankies.