In Japanese with English & Chinese Subtitles
Director: Yoshinari Nishikori
Cast: Hiroko Yakushimaru, Kai Inowaki, Makiko Kuno, Sawa Suzuki, Shirô Sano, Takashi Sasano, Kôichi Ueda, Sabu Kawahara, Daisuke Shima
RunTime: 1 hr 56 mins
Released By: GV and Encore Films
Official Website: http://www.encorefilms.com/wasao
Opening Day: 23 June 2011
Synopsis: WASAO, a story of the love for nature, the people and animals, a tear-jerking story of a speechless dog with a pure heart. WASAO makes a screen debut as himself in this film that tells a sentimental yet heart-warming story of a 'busakawa-ken' (ugly but cute dog) and his past that has never been told. Wasao, has made a name for himself with his adorable appearance, with close to 2,000 tourists who travel to Ajigasawa, Aomori Prefecture in the northenmost of the Tohoku region in Japan on weekends and public holidays, causing traffic congestions. People wrote about his distinct presence and charms in their blogs, resulting in WASAO being an idol in Japan as well as starting a new craze. He has been featured in over 30 magazines and appeared in over 50 television programs in Japan.
One of the most impressionable dog associated films that will strike many people’s minds is probably Hachiko. It even has an American remake under its belt. Following that blockbuster success of Hachiko in Japan, many other dog associated movies emerged in the 2000s such as Quill (2004) and 10 Promises to my Dog (2008). It seems like there are really many dog lovers out there in Japan! And here comes the busu-kawa (busu = ugly; kawaii = cute) Wasao into the picture… the similarity between Wasao and Hachiko? Both are local Japanese breed, Akita Inu!
However, Wasao and Hachiko do not share any resemblance, be it the physical appearance or in terms of the box office ticket sales. Despite Wasao’s (the real deal) growing popularity with its frequent appearance on local television programs cannot secure the movie a seat in the top three positions of the box office ticket sales. The Japanese probably know better; they knew that the Wasao’s behaviours would be more interesting to watch without the constructs of a movie.
To be absolutely blunt, Wasao is just an untrained dog with seemingly mysterious personality. It seems fitting for the plot, but the plot itself is really bare. It is a story worth 10 minutes, being told in 2 hours. Implication: the movie is painfully long and draggy. It would have been more bearable and enjoyable if the movie had more focus. Should we be impressed with the dog’s loyalty? Or should we feel for the characters in the story?
That leads on to the next point, which is the lack of character development. As the story unfolds, everything just carries on as it is, as though it has reached a plateau. Unfortunately, there is no climax that one can look forward to as well. Yes, simply a plot that lack depth and development! There is a considerably more exciting scene in the movie, when Wasao took on a big black bear. Wasao’s heroic instincts are awaken as he uses his might to overcome and protect the little boy. The outcome is predictable and ridiculous!
Well, one thing Wasao does attempt to do is to entertain, by having 3 old quirky uncles going all out to revive some action in the quiet town. Sorry to disappoint, but even that is also a lacklustre attempt to tickle the viewer. Another point worth credit is probably the framing of the town featured in the movie, Ajigasawa. It is filmed beautifully, projecting it as an ordinary yet intriguing little town.
All in all, the 116 minute long film turn out not to be the most entertaining and enjoyable film in its genre, pretty forgettable too. At least the person watching it (or bent on watching) would not have to prepare many packets of Kleenex!
(A 10-min story that is told in 2 hours… how much can you expect from it, really?)
Reviewed by Tho Shu Ling