Victor Rebengiuc is Costache, a slightly stubborn old man trying to rebuild his life after a flood has ruined his home. He’s also recently lost his wife. People try to help guide him in different directions, with some wanting him to sell his land and allow work to star on it while others just want him to reconnect with his son (played by Serban Pavlu), a young man who moved to Japan and now has a wife and son.
Something happened while I was watching The Japanese Dog. It started and I quickly realised it was going to be a slow film, a sedate drama with not much seeming to happen, on the surface. Then I started to notice the shot composition and camera moves that would occur. Director Tudor Cristian Jurgiu may be making an intimate character study, but that doesn’t stop him from making it look as beautiful as possible.
The script, co-written by Jurgiu and Ioan Antoci, is as delightful as the visual aesthetic. It feels like every sentence tells viewers something about either Costache, the general situation, other characters onscreen, or the general aspects of human nature that Jurgiu wants to gently poke at with his cinematic stick.
Rebengiuc gives a central performance so wonderfully natural that the movie often feels like a documentary, certainly in the opening scenes. He holds your interest throughout, and goes through a tangible journey of development/discovery as the movie makes slow and steady progress towards a conclusion. Pavlu is very good as the son, a young man who loves his dad, yet never really knew how to communicate with him that easily. Kana Hashimoto and Toma Hasimoto are also both very good, essentially bringing about the biggest change in Rebengiuc’s character, and Ioana Abur also deserves some praise for her performance.
Standout moments include a scene in which Costache is being prepared for a shave by an inquisitive young man, and a shot that starts with him fixing his roof and then smoothly following him back down to ground level as people arrive at his home. I know that picking out highlights from the camerawork may not cause most people reading this to get excited, yet it’s worth emphasising just how this movie, and how Jurgiu, is determined not to let the form be defined by the content. That’s a big deal for a film that could have so easily settled for the lo-fi, gritty approach.
Despite the harsh environment, The Japanese Dog uses some beautiful camerawork to focus on some beautiful souls. Well worth your time, if you have the patient for such fare.
DIRECTOR: TUDOR CRISTIAN JURGIU
WRITER: IOAN ANTOCI, TUDOR CRISTIAN JURGIU
STARS: VICTOR REBENGIUC, SERBAN PAVLU, IOANA ABUR, KANA HASHIMOTO, TOMA HASHIMOTO
RUNTIME: 85 MINS APPROX