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Culture and Arts

Culture Watch

New on DVD: Released in April 2006

Reviews by Angela Pressburger

A Japanese film about a dog that the whole family can enjoy: Quill

Fun Japanese musical that looks fantastic: Princess Raccoon

A small Native American story: The Edge of America

Two of our favourite classics finally released on DVD: Hamsun and The Story of Qiu Ju

A documentary that may inspire you: Peace One Day



Quill
2004, Japan, 100 min., subtitles
Director: Yoichi Sai


Recognitions
Hochi Film Award, Japan, 2004; Kinema Junpo Award for Best Director, Best Director, 2005; Nominated for Best Asian Film, Hong Kong, 2005.

Based on the Japanese novel of the same name by Ryohei Akimoto and Kengo Ishiguro – so far not translated into English.

Quill is an adorable blond Labrador puppy whose owner wants him to be a guide dog and pesters a couple who train seeing-eye-dogs until they agree to take him on. He seems to be a little slower than the other dogs at the school, but exhibits an unusual empathy and patience.  Eventually, he is considered ready for a home and is sent to live with Mitsuru Watanabe, a lonely, cranky, middle-aged man who would "rather sleep than be dragged around by a dog.” Watanabe’s daughter, Mitsuko, narrates how Quill wins the lonely old man’s trust so that slowly he begins to venture once again into the outside world and be a little less crusty with his fellow humans.

The level of detail presented here makes this one of the smartest, most realistic dog films we’ve seen. The director even manages to show Quill’s unhappiness when he first goes to live at the Watanabes by giving him a dream about his old squeaky toy. And everyone in the family will enjoy Mr. Tawada, the trainer, whose enthusiasm for saying “Goooood!” is sweetly funny – every time. You – and your children –
will learn all about what makes a great seeing-eye dog.  Beyond this, the film offers a charming way to learn about accepting change and adjusting to what life brings.  We can all learn something from the way Quill manages to adjust each time he is taken away from what he knows
and loves. Apart from one caution – everyone will be jumping up and down to adopt a Labrador puppy – we highly recommend this film.


Princess Raccoon (Operetta Tanuki Goten)
2005, Japan, 111 min., subtitles
Director: Suzuki Seijun (Yumeiji)

Recognitions
Kinema Junpo Award, Japan, 2006

The tale of Prince Amechiyo (Japan’s hottest heartthrob, Odagiri Joe) whose father has abandoned him on a sacred mountain due to a prophecy foretelling that the son would be more beautiful than the father. He is rescued by an enigmatic Mandarin-speaking beauty (Chinese diva Zhang Ziyi Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, Memoirs of a Geisha), a tanuki — a raccoon-like creature known for its shape-shifting – a princess in human guise, who takes him home to Tanuki (Raccoon) Palace.

They fall in love only to face one obstacle after another. It doesn’t make much sense, but just sit back and relax while you watch this idiosyncratic musical, which embraces everything from hip-hop to schmaltzy torch songs, alongside spectacular visuals. Think Kabuki introduced to Gilbert & Sullivan by the Buddha ….  It owes more to films from the magical realms of “pure spectacle” like Emeric Pressburger’s The Tales of Hoffmann than anything else you might have seen. Lavish and delightfully over-the-top.

Specialty release available on all-region (it should play anywhere) DVD from www.yesasia.com

The Edge of America
2003, USA, 105 min.
Director: Chris Eyre (Smoke Signals, Skins, A Thousand Roads)

Recognitions
Directors Guild of America award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Children’s Programs; 2006; Writers Guild of America award for Best Children’s Script; 2006

A delightful small film from pre-eminent Native American director, Chris Eyre. The story opens with Kenny Williams (James McDaniel), wondering what his new job as an English teacher at the Three Nations Reservation, in Utah, will be like. At the end of his long drive to get there, he’s not too impressed: the principal mistakes him for the new janitor because he is a black African-American, and the teacher housing mentioned in his contract turns out to be a mobile home. Although he’s heard the school’s expectations over the telephone, nothing has really prepared him for reservation life; it’s a world completely outside his experience and, not being Native American, he’s faced with a steep uphill battle for acceptance.

An opportunity arises when Kenny admits he was an outstanding athlete in high school and the principal invites his help in coaching the high-school girls’ basketball team, which has been on a loosing streak. Despite his protestations that reading is more important, Kenny is persuaded to be the new coach and is able to improve the team’s fortunes to the point where he becomes obsessed with winning the championship at the state finals. But the team doesn’t appreciate being pushed and the members confront Kenny with their viewpoint, forcing him to look more deeply into himself and the traditional Native American culture surrounding him.

Based on a true story and acted in large part by talented local Native Americans, this movie shows how a bond can develop between a community and an outsider with a deepening of cultural values on both sides. As always, Eyre brings a light touch to a deep subject.

Page Two of Angela Pressburger's April DVD reviews

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