Le Pays du chien qui chante

A respected figure in French cinema due to his exceptional 30-year career as an editor for famous filmmakers such as François Truffaut, Maurice Pialat, Philippe Garrel and Manuel Poirier, Yan Dedet has made one of the most surprising directorial debuts of the year with this beautifully observed tale of a Japanese couple who travel to France’s mountainous Jura region. Musicologist Toyo Mahiru (Gen Shimaoka) and his wife Yoshiko (Katsuko Nakamura) have come to the mountain community because they’ve heard that one of the villagers owns a dog who sings with its master. Sawing the legs off a table and unpacking typical Asian delicacies along with photos of their ancestors, the childless couple set up a miniature Japanese household in their rented room, arousing curiosity amongst the locals. When Toyo’s plans to study the singing dog are thwarted, he devises a more radical project that’s designed to provide the couple with an heir.
The film delights in observing the quirks and oddities of two very different cultures as the Japanese and French characters tentatively explore each other’s customs and rituals. There are many moments of understated humour, such as the Japanese attempting to gracefully eat the stringy cheese of Jura fondue, or their mountain-man host’s reaction to a state-of-the art laptop computer. Yet there isn’t a whiff of stereotyping in the characterisations. Instead, Dedet’s film unfolds with a poetic simplicity that is as absorbing and quirky as its subjects. This bittersweet meditation on loss, change and working to reconcile the past and the future is an eccentric delight.
France-Japan, 2002. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby stereo SR. 92 mins.

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