The gods made winter so that we do not forget each other's warmth
And with that comes a slow moving tale about a poor boy, his pet dog and his dreams. It may be easy to market this as a “dog” movie, since the pet named Chibi happens to be extremely adorable with is all white fur coat with a singular patch of brown, and every camera angle just screams “cute”, but other than gracing the scene each time its owner is on it, this film, written by Kundo Koyama (who did Departures), tells of a more touching tale of youthful friendship in the 30s.
Directed by Joji Matsuoka, there's an air of familiarity with the plot design to have the current day characters flash back to scenes past based on curiosity, here thanks to a manuscript which an elderly Sayo Arima (Keiko Kishi) received one day, triggering the story to her daughter of her own childhood, and the good friend in Sota Harada (Shintaro Morimoto), with what looks like a very early crush on a boy living in poverty with his grandfather (Katsuo Nakamura).
Sayo (the younger version played by Marino Kuwajima) is the only firm friend of Sota who truly believes in his talent for painting, and because of his inability to pay school fees, Sota has to drop out. But of course that doesn't mean that the young kids' friendship stops there, as they frequently hang out together, much to the detriment of Sayo's father (Teruyuki Kagawa) who looks down on the boy based on his family background (or lack thereof), preferring his daughter to befriend those of a higher class, harbouring hopes that she will one day be married to a rich scion.
That's basically it, as the film plods on in constant reminder of how poor Sota is, of how he had been thrust with the shortest stick that life has to offer, and basicallow hard his life is. Despite all these, he's been brought up like a true gentleman, to take things as they come on the chin, with a purity of heart that bears no grudge and holds no hatred. Simply put, Sota's the fantasy kid every parent would probably dream of, and one whom will likely excel in school with an opportunity given.
The cast does a great job though in this nostalgic drama, from Rei Dan as Sayo's more understanding mom in direct contrast to how Kagawa played the father role. Arthouse film fans will not miss Tadanobu Asano's presence as a clown from a travelling circus, the only other true friend that Sota has who piles on the encouragement for his little friend. Shintaro Morimoto and Marino Kuwajima were both outstanding as the young friends, and my bets are on Shitaro with his natural charisma in making plenty of impact which I hope will carry on in his career. Chiba the dog also looked a little lost in being in a film that's not focused entirely on dogs since he would be a shoo—in favourite to star in one of the many genre animal pictures that get made by the dozen.
If anything, there's a reminder in the film that's especially poignant to us now, and that's to be contented with life no matter how difficult life may seem. Wonderfully shot with its beautiful production sets recreated for Japan of old, unless you've become a fan to the tales that Kundo Koyama will spin after Departures, then this would be something right up your alley with a tale of reminiscence and nostalgia of a young first love.