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Helen the Baby Fox

Helen and Arashi Fukusawa in Helen the Baby Fox.
Year: 2006  
Director: Keita Kohno  
Writer: Masaki Imai  
  Cast: Takao Osawa, Yasuko Matsuyuki, Arashi Fukusawa, Ryoko Kobayashi, Shunji Fujimura, Hideko Yoshida, Ryoko Tanami, Sadao Abe
  The Skinny: A young boy nurses an ailing baby fox back to health in this heartwarmingly cute children's movie. Fans of Old Yeller and The Yearling will not be disappointed.
Review by Calvin McMillin:      Helen the Baby Fox is the kind of children's movie that almost defies any sort of conventional film critique. A simple litmus test for whether you might enjoy it is probably the title character herself. Just take one long look at that little fox, and you'll know exactly where you stand. If the mere image of Helen warms you to the core, well, the movie has already won half the battle for your heart. But what's commendable about Helen the Baby Fox is that it isn't content to merely coast on the undeniable "cuteness factor" of its non-human star. Nice performances, beautiful imagery, and a decent time-tested "coming of age" storyline, all contribute to making Helen the Baby Fox a standout family film. Oh, and did I mention the fox is almost unbearably adorable? That helps A LOT.
     Based on the book by Minoru Taketazu, Helen the Baby Fox contains a fairly by-the-numbers plot, but it's dressed up and executed in such a way that it feels fresh. On his way home from school, a little boy named Taichi (Arashi Fukusawa) discovers an abandoned baby fox on the side of the road. After playing with the animal for a bit and soon realizing it has no place else to go, he takes it to the local police officer (Sadao Abe) to see if he can locate the fox's mother. Unsure of what to do about the situation, the cop takes Taichi and the fox deep into the woods to meet the local veterinarian, Koji Yajima (Takao Osawa).
     The somewhat irascible Koji lives with his feisty daughter Misuzu (Ryoko Kobayashi), and although they won't admit it, they both have a soft spot for taking on "charity cases" - even though the number of animals they're taking care of is starting to eat them out of house and home. Unbeknownst to the cop, the Yajimas and Taichi are already well acquainted, as it turns out that Taichi has been living with them ever since his mother (Yasuko Matsuyuki) dropped him off before embarking on a photo assignment. Of course, Taichi wants to keep the animal, although Koji is a bit frustrated about taking on yet another "freeloader." Eventually, they discover the shocking truth about Helen - she's deaf, blind, and mute. How's that for a triple whammy?
     Inspired by the story of Helen Keller, the fox is soon "dubbed" Helen, and Taichi takes on the nickname "Sullivan" (after Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller's tutor). Viewing the abandoned Helen as a kindred spirit of sorts, Taichi assumes a parental role, attempting to nurse the frail young creature back to full strength. In the meantime, Taichi does chores for the veterinarian, and slowly, but surely, a ragtag "family" is born amongst the four of them. But even all the love in the world may not be enough to save Helen. Yeah, it's one of those movies. Get out your hankies.
     While adjectives like "heartwarming" and "affecting" may turn off some viewers immediately, Helen the Baby Fox achieves these qualities without coming off as cloying schlock. The film earns its emotional beats, even though I would imagine most adults are well aware of how things are going to play out. As with most family films, Helen The Baby Fox does attempt to communicate the kind of "important life lessons" that we've come to expect from the genre, but again, the presentation of such matters is well-executed.
     From a purely visual standpoint, Helen the Baby Fox is a feast for the eyes, especially in the amazingly picturesque outdoor scenes of rural Hokkaido. But it's not all pretty pictures either: the film is well served by its cast members. Young actor Arashi Fukasawa does a fine job in the lead role, while Takao Osawa (so good in Crying Out Love in the Center of the World) anchors the film as the local vet who comes across as half-curmudgeon, half-Good Samaritan. With a cute young star and even cuter title character, Helen the Baby Fox already contains the primary ingredients for an enjoyable children's film, but what makes the whole project all the more digestible is the coming together of likeable performances, eye-catching locales, and solid underlying premise. Under its cutesy veneer, the film deals with serious issues of life and death, and does so successfully. Fans of Old Yeller and The Yearling will not be disappointed. In fact, Helen the Baby Fox may just be a Japanese family classic. Or maybe I'm just smitten by that damn cute baby fox. Oh well, I'm betting you will be, too. (Calvin McMillin, 2006)
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese and Cantonese Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Various Extras
   Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen