Film Review: Quill: The Life of a Guide Dog

Wonderful, emotionally wrenching charmer is an absolute must-see for dog-lovers of all ages, as it follows a beautiful yellow Labrador guide dog from puppyhood on and those who guide it through the early years of care, training and ultimate service to

Although made in 2004, family-friendly Quill, a beautifully orchestrated cinematic concoction of elegant style and engaging performers (two and four-legged), never shows its age. This is a timeless, enthralling tale, apparently based on a true story, about the well-lived service life of seeing-eye dog Quill, his caretakers, trainers and charges. Audiences who love animals, stories celebrating the best of man and beast (without too much sugar), and an amazing ending that coaxes nonstop tears are in for a treat. And so are the kids.

Few mortals will fail to delight in the film’s generous opening shots of the adorable Lab litter of five that Quill is born into. What sets Quill apart is the unusual mark (suggesting a bird drawn with a quill) on the side of his stomach that inspires his name and sets him apart through the years.

His owners want one of the pups to train as a service dog to the blind and, upon inspection by guide dog trainers, Quill is unexpectedly selected because he is the least excitable of the lively bunch. He is then sent to live with young bourgeois Tokyo couple Isamu Nii (Teruyuki Kagawa) and Mitsuko Nii (Shinobu Terajima), a charitable foster family that volunteers to care for the dog as soon as it can be removed from the mother. The couple adore the pup, name him Quill, and provide a lovely home, garden and plenty of stuffed animals for him to enjoy. A squeaky bear becomes Quill’s favorite.

After a year, Quill experiences the second of several “abandonments” as the couple must relinquish the dog so he can be trained. The shots of the disappearing couple seen from Quill’s moving van and the dog himself provide one of the film’s many fiercely emotional moments.

Far from Tokyo, Quill arrives at a facility where he trains. Like his classmates, he learns basic commands and movements (words in English like “go” and “stop” are more effective than the Japanese). Once the dog graduates, the school’s able trainer Satoru Tawada (Kippei Shiina) tries to interest curmudgeonly, blind family man Mitsuru Watanabe (Kaoru Kobayashi) in forsaking his walking stick for better help from Quill. Watanabe, a simple man who works in the town’s disability office, resists; Tawada finally brings him around and thus begins Quill’s next life as guide dog to Watanabe.

The film turns more to family drama as Quill adjusts to Watanabe, his wife, their kids and his guide dog duties. Watanabe proves to be a difficult handler, the dog’s accommodations are not the best, and Quill briefly rebels by running away. The realities of illness, aging and death intrude but never disrupt the beautiful man-dog relationship depicted here, along with the miraculous work (apparently dating from ancient history) that seeing-eye dogs do.

Korean-Japanese director Yôichi Sai, working with a fine cast (humans and dogs) and worthy crew (hats off to the Kuricorder Quartet’s score and the lovely production design), delivers family entertainment at its best.