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In the last decade, I've lost 3 dogs to cancer and cars. So, like many, I'm a dog lover and a sucker for good animal-based stories, particularly if they're based on true stories. In this movie, we trace the paw prints of Kuro, a sweet, personality-strong dog, as she journeys from stray mutt to watchdog, loyal friend and school/town hero.
"Sayanora (Farewell), Kuro" is based on a true story; of a dog named Kuro that lived in Matsumoto Fukashi High School from 1961-1972. (Like "Coach Carter",I prefer movies based on true events.) Kuro ultimately befriends 4,800 students. She shows up at the school one day and ends up staying for 12 years. We follow Kuro as she comically "hangs out" at the school, joins classes and teachers' meetings, befriends the night watch janitor and ends up sleeping in the janitor's office.
She was officially listed as a watchdog in the teacher's roll resister. When Kuro dies, several THOUSAND people gathered for the funeral and the school principal eulogizes a moving remembrance for her. (Keep you Kleenex handy.) There are plenty of humorous scenes, too.
The deeds of Kuro also inspired a best-selling book and a local Japanese organization that raised 100 million yen for the production of this film. In the film, we first see Kuro as a puppy belonging to a little girl who lives with her parents in a farmhouse. Then on moving day, Kuro gets left behind .
Kuro then wanders down the mountain, where she encounters Kyosuke (Satoshi Tsumabuki), a teenager on his way to school. Kyosuke gives Kuro part of his lunch and she follows him to school.
There, Kyosuke's friend Mamoru (Ryuta Sato), is appearing on a festival parade float as statesman Saigo Takamori; Kuro is drafted as Saigo's canine prop. Standing as still as the statue of Saigo's pooch in Ueno Park, Kuro is an immediate hit with the crowd and is adopted as a school mascot, over the objections of a dog-fearing teacher (Sansei Shiomi).
Although Kuro finds a new home with the school caretaker (Hisashi Igawa), Kyosuke's life takes some ups and downs. He and his best friend Koji Kobe (Hirofumi Arai) are planning to go to college in Tokyo -- and both have a crush on the same girl, Yukiko Igarashi (Ayumi Ito). She, on the other hand, plans to stay put after graduation, and can't decide between her two suitors. When Koji asks her to drop Kyosuke in favor of him, she refuses and he roars off on his motorbike to accident-ville. Yukiko, feeling responsible, edges toward an abyss, where Kuro's calming presence saves her.
10 years later, Kuro is a school institution and getting long in the tooth. Among her new friends is Kenji Morishita (Yuta Kanai), a senior who has quarreled with his former best friend and resigned himself to getting a job after graduation, vs. going to college. When Kuro's health takes a sudden turn for the worse, Kenji springs into action, raising money from his teachers and classmates for an operation. About the same time Kyosuke, now a veterinarian, arrives in town for Mamoru's wedding. When he hears about Kuro, he decides to postpone his return to Tokyo and perform the surgery. He also rediscovers long-buried feelings for Yukiko.
While adding heart-warming touches to this story, Matsuoka does not create a full blown tearjerker. He captures the atmosphere of the Nagano foothills in winter, with its crisp air, brisk winds and roads stretching out under open skies, all the way into the storybook mountains. The mid-winter setting was also a good choice narratively, underlining, as it does, the characters' purity, innocence and isolation. Kuro's seeming indifference to the cold makes her a warming presence in her adopted humans' lives.
The film focuses on youths' facing a perennial choice -- leave for the big city life outside, or stay and accept a limited, if more family-centered, life at home. Matsuoka also gives viewers an insight into the Japanese obsession with cute bundles of fur.
This film is a touching drama of "dog and people", and "people and people", who, by emulating Kuro, cherish friendships and love. The story is about dog-influenced people who endure separation from friends, the passionate love of youth, and motherly love. Kuro is always there to lead by example, helping the student choose spiritual behavior over baser tendencies. The presence of Kuro obviously made a difference and certainly cheered and encouraged many students and teachers. She had shared moments with 4,800 students. Everyone sooner or later came to love her. It's a touching story of a typical, eternally happy dog (maybe you have one in your house?). The film is excellently directed by Mr. Joji Matsuoka. I HIGHLY recommend it!
Re: Spoiler. Dogs typically live 9-15 years, so telling you that Kuro makes her transition during the movie is hardly big news.
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