Film: Snow Prince: Forbidden Love Melody [Sunō Purinsu: Kinjirareta koi no merodii スノープリンス 禁じられた恋のメロディ]
Director: MATSUOKA Joji 松岡 錠司
Performers: MORIMOTO Shintaro 森本 慎太郎, KUWASHIMA Marino 桑島 真理乃, TADANOBU Asano 浅野 忠信, Chibi チビ (Patrasche the dog, now Chibi the Akita)
Breed featured: Japanese Akita, Miniature Poodles (brief)
Dog Trainer: MIYA Tadaomi 宮 忠臣 Assistant Dog Trainer: SUGAWARA Takashi(?) 菅原 孝
Production: Shochiku, 2009 (Japan)
This Japanese version of A Dog of Flanders riffs off a British “puppy love” film called Melody (1971) by shifting the emphasis onto two childhood friends, Sota and Sayo, basically crowding Chibi the Japanese Akita out of the story. SPOILER, Notably, this filmic version was bold enough to follow the original story to its tragic end. / spoiler. That’s about the most I can say in its favor, as the film did very little to convey the essential relationships — boy+grandfather, boy+dog, boy+girl, children+dog, etc. — in anything but the most superficial terms.
It’s always disappointing when a movie features a “rare” breed dog, and then fails to render it with full personality. It’s especially egregious when the dog is supposed to play a much more central role, even featuring in the title of the (original) story! Ironically, a couple dramatic incidents hinge on the boy totally ignoring his dog’s warnings, thus imperiling himself and his friends. Cheap thrills to amp up otherwise muted performances.
Not that the Akita was the most, uhm, engaged actor, either.
Chibi the Akita was directed by Miya Tadaomi, the same dog trainer who handled Mari, Ururu, and just about every other Japanese dog film to come out in recent years. The mismatched eyelines and expressionless canine faces are about par for the course here, but the editing and camera work was especially deficient. Sometimes you can guess from the camera work whether or not a cinematographer actually understands canine body language. An inexperienced photographer will focus on the dog’s face to convey feeling in human, speech-centric terms.
However, dogs communicate using their whole body, head to tail, and they do so most effectively when there is an actual target of communication. That is, mutual interaction with other people, other dogs, and any other creatures, does the most to render animal personality in legible terms. Yet, the actors in Snow Prince seemed resistant to actually touching the dog.
The effect is to diminish the vivacity of the dog, in my opinion. I guess it’s “realistic” in the sense that the boy and his dog are supposed to be half-frozen and starving, but still! What a waste of a gorgeous, fluffy Akita that everyone should be tempted to pet and manhandle.
Asano Tadanobu has a minor, but pivotal role as a circus clown. I appreciate the touch of absurdity he brings to otherwise rote performances, even if his talents are wasted here.
Major squickiness also comes from the concept of “puppy love” and the discomfort of knowing that I’m supposed to be rooting for the ill-fated romance between Sota the pauper and Sayo the rich schoolgirl, but there is no good reason to do so. I know we’re supposed to think they’re so innocent and pure and asexual and blah blah blah, but I’m too cynical. I have no belief in innocent love, just ignorant love. Besides, kids that age are already capable of being really mean to each other, as the other schoolkids demonstrate.
But I’m curious as to what happens when we think of “puppy love” not as an anthropomorphism, but a cynomorphism. What we mean by the term is a fleeting, but intense attachment to another. It’s like when [some] puppies will orient themselves entirely towards their One Person, chosen primarily on the basis of proximity: Oh hey, you’re RIGHT THERE and I LOVE YOU.
Puppies are biologically wired to be people-oriented because they’re helpless and they literally might not live without you. Sorry, that’s not love. That’s sheer survival instinct kicking in when a baby has been violently wrest from its den, and it’s silly to conflate the situations. Don’t forget after all that the children found Chibi, abandoned as a puppy, because his mother had been flogged and worked to death.
Yeah, things were never innocent to begin with.
Anyway, if you have the ability to disengage the part of your brain that processes reality, maybe you’ll enjoy this film. But you’re going to have to identify with something other than the dog… or any of the main characters, because there’s just not much there.