One for the Album
There is always room for another dog movie given that they're after all, Man's best friend, with enough touching plots cooked up to keep the legions of dog lovers happy and in unison that their pet canines would likely possess similar qualities in loyalty, helpfulness and just looking adorable since the camera captures all the best angles. Wasao could have been a dog lover's dream movie, but instead it's more of a story of the local inhabitants of a small sleepy town that comes alive through a series of slice of life incidents.
From the get go you know that this is an engineered piece of work that perhaps tried too hard. There's a cycling event (you'll learn later on that it's part of an annual marathon) that the towns folk lined the streets to cheer the cyclists on, only for Akira (Masaki Izawa) to drop his red ball that his pet dog Shiro plays with, and for the dog to instinctively run after it, getting in the way of the event of course. Then Mom just had to run after the dog also instinctively as well, only to be knocked down by a van. Seriously, if an event of that nature on a straight road is in progress, any vehicle if allowed on the road, won't be travelling at that kind of speed to not see anyone stepping out, or for that matter hitting with such an impact it becomes life and death.
So Akira banishes his puppy to some relatives in Tokyo, only for the pup to escape one day, and trek back to what was his home. Insert shots of cute puppy rummaging through thrash for sustenance, getting drenched in the rain, and simply taking all the miserableness in its stride just to make it back to its owner. By the time it gets back to the town, it's all grown up into one large hairy furball, hence its nickname Wasao, but like a lover jilted once and still holding onto a candle, worships its master from afar, blaming itself for causing Akira's Mom a long term stay at the hospital.
And that happens in the first few minutes of the film. The rest of Wasao flits from character to character, scene to scene sometimes in too carefree a fashion, introducing to us a trio of senior citizens (Sabu Kawahara, Mansaku Fuwa, Koichi Ueda) who decided to check off a bucket list item by participating in a triathlon, a (fake looking) bear on the loose wrecking havoc in the agricultural town and a hunter (Takashi Sasano) engaged to hunt for it, who turns out to be somewhat of a lost subplot that went nowhere except to set up something very expected in the closing arc of the narrative, practice drumming sessions that I would have loved to see more of as it featured some infectious beats, only for a very hastily edited segment of a procession being all that came out of it, and a man (Masahiro Komoto) whose participation in the mentioned triathlon turned out to be a comedic spin no thanks to a lady who pledged her hand in marriage should he come in the best.
On the canine front, there's a restaurant lady who owns her own brood of dogs, bringing in the theme of life and death with one of her dogs nearing the end of her life, while another is pregnant, and to a certain degree, this lady (actress Hiroki Yakushimaru) turns out to be quite the main character for her discovery of Wasao/Shiro, her attempts to befriend it, and ultimately figuring out its identity, coupled with being in the thick of the action when looking for a missing Akira who had ventured off trying to cycle his way to Tokyo.
Wasao suffered from having too many characters in it for its own good that on one hand showcases the very kampung feel where everyone in town knows everyone else in the close-knitted community, but on the other relegated the dogs in the show to the usual shots that capture cuteness, and seriously, no self-respective dog film can ever do without shots of a dog running at top speed along a long beach/road, which Wasao contains with aplomb. There could have been a fine balance in its narrative sharing screen time between man and dog, but in this case, the focus was clearly on the human stories, and the other dogs featured in the film stole the show from Shiro who had to just look expectant and hopeful for that recognition from its once owner.
There were many mentions by the characters that Wasao/Shiro had a funny look, that it was ugly yet charming in its own way. I didn't think the dog looked ugly at all, though it had enough fur on it especially in its mane to resemble a white lion. Kimba this is not, but that shouldn't deter any dog lover from having a go at this film. For the rest of us, steer clear if you cannot stand predictability.