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Land of the Singing Dog

In "Land of the Singing Dog," a Japanese couple arrives in a French mountain village on a scientific mission that mutates into something more ethereal. Feature helming debut by 30-year editing vet Yann Dedet endeavors to transmit his deep-seated love for both Nipponese ritual and the vistas and forthright folk of France's Jura region.

In “Land of the Singing Dog,” a Japanese couple arrives in a French mountain village on a scientific mission that mutates into something more ethereal. Feature helming debut by 30-year editing vet Yann Dedet, who’s worked with Truffaut, Pialat and Poirier, endeavors to transmit his deep-seated love for both Nipponese ritual and the vistas and forthright folk of France’s Jura region. But while the exercise is poetic and freighted with mysticism, the abutting of cultures often appears more random than rhapsodic. Despite its vivid characters, this haiku-like pic is abstract and oblique to the point of obfuscation, signaling fest-only exposure.

Musicologist Toyo Mahiru (Gen Shimaoka) and his archeologist-cum-geologist wife, Yoshiko (Katsuko Nakamura), have come to the mountain community because they’ve heard one of the villagers owns a dog who sings with its master. Sawing the legs off a table and unpacking typical Asian delicacies along with photos of their ancestors, the couple sets up a miniature Japanese household in their rented room.

However, when Toyo’s plans to study the singing dog are thwarted, he secretly undertakes a more radical project, designed to bring fertility to the loving but childless couple.

Setting is gorgeous and there are many moments of understated humor, such as the foreigners attempting to gracefully eat the stringy cheese of Jura fondue — or their mountain-man host’s reaction to a state-of-the-art laptop computer.

This bittersweet meditation on loss, change and working to decipher the past en route to the future strives to unearth buried emotions. But Toyo’s plan is such a leap of faith in an otherwise methodical life that it seems more a misguided than inspired gesture.

Performances hit the right notes. Lensing is measured and soothing, editing episodic.

Land of the Singing Dog

Directors Fortnight -- France

  • Production: An Arte France presentation of an Arte France/Maia Films production, with participation of CNC. (International sales: Mercure, Paris.) Produced by Gilles Sandoz. Directed by Yann Dedet. Screenplay, Dedet, Stephane Bouquet.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Nathalie Durand; editor, Mathilde Muyard; art director, Christophe Offre; costume designers, Sophie Lalleman, Cecile Berges; sound (Dolby), Yolande Decarsin, Jean-Pierre Laforce; Japanese ritual adviser, Kenji Katagiri; archeology adviser, Jean-Luc Mordefroid; botany adviser, Henri Michaud. Reviewed at Forum des Images, Paris, May 6, 2002. (In Cannes Film Festival -- Directors Fortnight.) Running time: 92 MIN.
  • With: <b>With:</b> Katsuko Nakamura, Gen Shimaoka, Dominique Piard, Jules Dedet-Granel, Francois Piard, Louis Benoit. (French and Japanese dialogue)
  • Music By: