The curious Japanese drama Quill: The Life Of A Guide Dog follows a seeing-eye dog from birth to death, as it goes through the various phases of weaning and training before forming a trusting and loving relationship with its human companion. Though it would be impractical to spend 12 or 13 years chronicling the dog’s life, in all other ways Quill would make more sense as a documentary, because it could detail these procedures and relationships without staged scenes or narrative contrivances. But Quill is a fiction and a uniquely stilted one at that, absent of almost any dramatic tension and freighted instead with a sentimentality that an adorable, devoted Labrador can achieve without much help.
Beginning with shots of the newborn puppy stumbling around on its wobbly legs, Quill structures its journey in the “partings” that whisk it from its mother to first-year caretakers to a training facility, and finally to the blind man who will come to rely on it. Identified by a cross-shaped birthmark on its left side, Quill spends its first year with a married couple whose only task is to treat it kindly and teach it to trust humans. After that, the dog goes to training school, where it learns various commands (in English) and comes to understand the importance of patience and discipline in accommodating its master’s special needs. When Quill finally graduates, he lands with an initially reluctant owner (Kaoru Kobayashi) who, of course, warms to him eventually.
Save for the tearful goodbye scenes, the only real drama in Quill is that Kobayashi is a little cranky at first and believe he’s doing just fine with a cane. Once that obstacle is overcome, the film goes back to cute shots of the trusty Labrador leading him around and various parties expressing their appreciation. The rigors of identifying and training companion dogs are fascinating, but they would fit more comfortably in a non-fiction format, where nobody has to play pretend. As it stands, the dog is the only creature who acts naturally.