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Film: The Day the Dogs Disappeared [Inu no kieta hi 犬の消えた日]
Director: OTSUKA Kyoji 大塚恭司
Performers: ARAKAWA Chika 荒川ちか, NISHIJIMA Hidetoshi 西島秀俊, DAN Rei 壇れい, Biina ビーナ (German Shepherd), Ichigo イチゴ (Shiba), Koyuki コユキ (Shiba pup)
Breeds featured: Shiba Inu, German Shepherd, West Highland White Terrier (briefly)
Production Information: Nippon Television Network Corporation (NTV), 2011 (Japan)

Summary from JDrama Weblog:

Matsukura Shuhei (Nishijima Hidetoshi) comes from a line of craftsmen. While he supports his family and craftsmen as the head of the household, he wishes for Japan’s victory in the Pacific War. However, when he decides to comply with an order to citizens to present their domesticated dogs and cats for the supply of the animals’ fur for winter clothes that would relieve the cold in the battlefields, he meets with bitter opposition from his wife, Shizuko (Dan Rei) and their only daughter, Sayoko (Arakawa Chika). The dogs Alf and Toa are family, and the air at home is strained with a sense of disquiet. As Shuhei agonises over the extreme choice he is being forced to make, he reminds himself to face hard reality …

Within the frame of patriotism and wartime honor is the most aggressively Pacifist drama I’ve seen in a while, centered on the home. Using the figure of the dog as family member — at least on par with women and children — the story presents a different kind of front worth fighting for, one that requires not military, but emotional struggles and transformation to overcome. The moral conclusion is that dogs (like children) are too innocent to knowingly participate in the war, and in the name of that innocence, it is the rightful duty of the family patriarch to protect, not to sacrifice, his own.

Since the copy I watched was unsubbed, and I am not fluent in Japanese, I was missing a lot. Nevertheless, the story itself is formulaic enough that I could figure it out. You’ve got all the usual suspects — first, a young girl, Sayoko, and a German Shepherd, Alf, whom she loves very much.

When her father heeds the patriotic call of duty and enlists Alf into the war, it happens so suddenly that Sayoko barely has time to react. But it obviously sucks, so her parents get her a puppy to replace Alf.

The second dog, triumphantly named Toa 東亜 or “East Asia” to capture the nationalistic sentiments of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, soon grows into a beautiful, fluffy adult Shiba Inu. Aww… But duty calls once again, and Mr. Matsukura, unable to join the army himself, is hellbent on sending a proxy to the warfront. So he orders his daughter to march Toa to the local police station, and turn him in herself.

This is where shit gets real, as Sayoko learns the awful truth that her pet Shiba is not going to serve as another noble war dog, like Alf. Instead, the whole courtyard full of adorable little full-coated Nihon ken (and one random Airedale) is going to be slaughtered to make kawagoromo — FUR COATS for the Japanese soldiers.

Kawagoromo?! Nooooo!!!

It takes a pretty tough heart to sit through the next hour as Sayoko parts with her dog and the entire family learns the true brutality of war, even as they remain on the homefront. Mercifully, there is no real violence depicted to the animals, and the most physically painful events are reserved for human bodies. The emotional toll of war is depicted clearly through the eyes of the young girl and the sensitive, watchful Shiba.

TV production values being what they are, I wasn’t expecting too much from this movie. It was a pleasant surprise to see some rare archival footage to counterbalance the incongruous veneer of the digital video. There are several iconic images of loyal dog Hachiko that show up in every written account. However, I didn’t know that there were also moving images and newsreels! You get just two tantalizing seconds of Hachiko footage right at the beginning, as well as clips of the famous Karafuto sled dogs.

Hachiko moves!

Footage of other Japanese war dog draftees is interspersed throughout the narrative.

This shot was especially touching to me: a blurry half-second of a dog loving up his owner like any other day, not realizing that he’s actually saying farewell. A break in the austerity of this send-off ceremony. The gloved hand of the military officer pressing down on his hips contrasts sharply against the lady’s soft embrace.

If there’s one thing I appreciate about this movie, it’s the way it self-consciously embeds itself amongst historical artifacts; the warmth of the story speaks to this moment in time, even as it testifies to a bleak past. Along with these documentary clips, they also present material evidence of the times. Here is a circular announcing the campaign to collect household “donations” of dogs to the war.

I never thought before about how one of the kanji for donation/contribution, ken 献, is homophonous with ken for dogs and also incorporates the 犬 graph, as if dogs have always been encoded into the idea of sacrifice. Anyway, nowhere on the circular does it state that the “splendid” service these dogs could provide would come in the form of fur-lined coats.

So were dogs truly in danger of being exterminated by wartime rhetoric? The prefatory narration threatens that this might have been so, though the fictive evidence marshaled here vehemently decries that possibility. But what of the Japanese dog in particular? Well, that’s a crisis scenario that extends beyond the timeline of the war, and does not concern this story. Rather, Inu no kieta hi pleads for a more universal respect for life itself, making no distinction between animal and human, let alone inu and Nihon ken.

Perhaps the day that dogs disappear is the day their status is elevated from an inferior to a familiar position, such that the category of “dog” as a disposable creature ceases to be acceptable.

Megaprops to Michael W. who pointed me in the direction of this download link, and helped fill in some of my questions.

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