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Dog in a Sidecar
Japanese: サイドカーに犬

Dog in a Sidecar
Yuko Takeuchi in Dog in a Sidecar


DVD (Japan)
Region 2 NTSC
Pony Canyon
2-Disc Special Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 2.0
Removable Japanese and English Subtitles
Various Extras

Year: 2007

Kichitaro Negishi

Writer: Tanaka, Katsuhiko Manabe, Yu Nagashima (Original story)
Cast: Yuko Takeuchi, Hana Matsumoto, Arata Furuta, Tommys Masa, Kippei Shiina, Hiroshi Yamamoto, Takeru Taniyama, Mimura, Yoichi Nukumizu, Kirin Kiki, Sawa Suzuki
The Skinny:

Told from a child's perspective, Dog in a Sidecar is a strangely pleasant comedy-drama about shady characters. However, the real reason to catch this is Yuko Takeuchi's award-winning comeback performance.

Kevin Ma:

One of the most often-heard wishes from contemporary adults is to become children again. For some, maybe it's because of a child's innocence, and for others, maybe it's because they get three months of vacation a year. For young Kaoru in Dog in a Sidecar, it's because she doesn't have to understand what type of shady characters she had to hang out with as a child. One of these shady characters is the mysterious Yoko, who shacks up with Kaoru's father after Kaoru's mother grows tired and simply leaves. Yoko is the opposite of what a mom might be - she lacks simple greeting manners, she pours the kids' favorite chocolate snacks (which she calls "feed") into a bowl for curry, and she simply comes and goes on a bicycle.

Yoko is also played by the beautiful Yuko Takeuchi, who chose Dog in a Sidecar as her comeback role after a tumultuous shotgun marriage and subsequent divorce. Winning several major acting awards in Japan (except for the much-coveted Japanese Academy Award), Takeuchi sheds the usual detached elegance from her previous roles to become the perpetual free spirit that is Yoko, lending an air of vulnerability and immaturity to a character who would actually be attracted to Kaoru's perpetually unattractive father. However, the focus of the film isn't Yoko, but rather the unusual bond she makes with Kaoru over a month of summer vacation.

While Kaoru does form a memorable friendship with Yoko - which seems to consist of Yoko seeing her own childhood insecurities reflected in her young friend - Kaoru doesn't intend on having Yoko replace her mother. Meanwhile, Kaoru's father, a failing used car salesman, seems unfazed by his wife's sudden departure. Bringing home a Pac-Man machine for the kids and a mistress for himself, he acts as if everything is business as usual. As the audience, we see the family through the innocent eyes of Kaoru, so we simply get hints of her father's shady dealings. Innocence is the order of the day, and director Kichitaro Negishi keeps things gentle and pleasant by simply showing almost everything from the kids' point of view. As a result, Kaoru's father becomes a rather likable character because of his casual affection for his children, despite his unlawful and immoral doings.

While Negishi tries to play the film as a comedy, it doesn't work very hard for laughs. The kids are cute and probably induce the most smiles, but much of the film moves with little direction. Writers Akiko Tanaka and Katsuhiko Manabe keep vital information about the family fairly subtle, which works for the film's character perspective. However, the lack of dots to connect does become frustrating when the story ends in a somewhat abrupt conclusion without any explanation. Kaoru's pattern of change (symbolized by her learning to ride a bike) is clearly developed, but the writers fail to clearly portray the dysfunctional environment she grew up in and its effects on her as an adult.

The filmmakers also try to balance the usual independent comedic quirkiness with a filmmaking style more grounded in reality, but they end up missing the mark. Amusing characters do make their way into the film (particular a granny who reads people a little too well), but most of it is filmed in that quiet Japanese independent style, opting for long takes and wide shots with few cuts. The result is not excruciatingly boring, but taking a "gentle" tone does eventually mean that things slow down a little too much at points. At least Dog in a Sidecar is always pleasant to look at, and yet it still manages to give Yuko Takeuchi a "Give me an award!" crying scene that probably stayed on the minds of many voters of the various Japanese film awards. Intentional award moments aside, Takeuchi manages to take a character that is essentially a plot device on paper (a major weakness in coming-of-age stories) and turns her into a convincing character. Negishi has created a low-key film that's pleasant to sit through, but Takeuchi delivers the performance that makes Dog in a Sidecar worth paying attention to. (Kevin Ma 2008)

image courtesy of Pony Canyon Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen