Puppy appeal nudges past some dramatic deficiencies in Nippon's "Quill." Tale of a golden retriever's birth-to-death odyssey as a guide dog for the blind offers an appealing protagonist under-served by human elements. Pokey pacing and middling script further hobble the effort.

Puppy appeal nudges past some dramatic deficiencies — if just by a nose — in Nippon “Quill.” Tale of a golden retriever’s birth-to-death odyssey as a guide dog for the blind offers an appealing protagonist under-served by human elements. Pokey pacing and middling script further hobble the effort, although the attractive concept should still register with family-minded fests and offshore broadcasters.

Titular pup is born in a litter of five, then chosen for guide dog training. Shuttled off to live with a childless couple until his first birthday, Quill impresses the chief trainer with his diligence and concentration. Unfortunately for Quill, and for us, he’s assigned to Mr. Watanabe (Kaoru Kobayashi), a professional advocate for the disabled who at first resists the idea of being canine-led. He’s a gruff, slow-warming master toward his wife and children, too. Thesp etches this figure in broadly comic terms, but character remains so dislikable one can’t help thinking the furry protag deserved better. While occasionally sluggish pic may wear out its welcome with younger kids, helmer Yoichi Sai’s modest production gets the most important thing right: Wrangling and presentation of multi-cast lead mutt is consistently winning.

Quill

Japan

Production

A Shochiku Co. and Quill Film Partners Ltd. production. Produced by Ichiro Yamamoto. Executive producer, Nozomu Enoki. Directed by Yoichi Sai. Screenplay, Shoichi Maruyama, Yoshihiro Nakamura, based on the novel by Ryohei Akimoto and Kengo Ishiguro.

Crew

Camera (color), Junichi Fujisawa; editor, Isao Kawase; music, Kuricorder Quartet; production designer, Riki Imamura. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 16, 2004. Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Kaoru Kobayashi, Kippei Shiina, Teruyuki Kgawa, Keiko Toda, Shinobu Terajima, Tomoka Kurotani, Yuko Natori.
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more