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The Japanese Dog: Starting over
© Tara Karajica
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The Japanese Dog, Tudor Jurgiu’s profound, subdued and touching debut film that was screened in San Sebastián’s Kutxa-New Directors section and in the Competition 1-2 in Warsaw, follows an elderly gentleman in the Romanian countryside whose recent tragic loss (with which he tries to cope and come to terms) brings him back in touch with his son.

In fact, Costache Moldu is a proud, generous and very independent man. His life has been devastated by a recent flood in his village in Romania that killed his wife and destroyed his home. He rescues what he can and lives in a house he has been allocated in by the mayor and in which there is still no electricity. He has a piece of land that the latter suggests he sells but Costache does not know what he will do with this money if and when he does. His purpose is now to rebuild his life, scavenging from abandoned houses to fill the one he has been given and trying to negotiate the complicated land sale in which he is very likely to be ripped off. His estranged son Ticu then arrives from Japan with his wife Hiroko and son Koji. It has been a long time since Costache has last spoken to his son; he does not have a phone and it becomes obvious he was not thrilled when he moved to Asia and left Gabi, a local girl he was engaged to. Now that they are all together, Costache starts thinking what to do with the land but Ticu and his family do not plan to stay forever in Romania.

The Japanese Dog is a rather impressive and sensitive debut film. The premise is simple with good reason and told in an elegant and contained manner. The film boasts from an outstanding performance by Victor Rebengiuc in a role of modest dignity. Rebengiuc inhabits Costache’s melancholy with true grit and his performance implies that the moment you have lost everything may be the best one to start over. He is stuck between apprehension and hope when his son returns. What also makes The Japanese Dog special is how Jurgiu complements the screenplay with an illustrative appreciativeness of Romania’s rural backdrop. Also, Costache’s wife’s death is not developed and the director’s discretion regarding it is poetic and effective. Moreover, the film never wastes time on unimportant matters and words and just like the film itself, the leading man’s reserved characteristic is implied rather than spilt out, making Costache a distinguished and elegant figure in spite of his country provenance. Furthermore, the mood in The Japanese Dog is chiefly melancholic and punctuated with moments of quiet humor, often based on cultural differences between the old man has his half Japanese grandson. In that sense, the Japanese dog in the film’s title is Koji’s mechanical toy given to him by his Japanese grandmother.

Andrei Butică’s cinematography is composed of beautiful shots of haunting moments such as the one showing Costache sitting at night at Maria’s grave, solely illuminated by candlelight. Butică’s truthful shots underline the importance of the environment sprinkled with great luminous effects.

The Japanese Dog is a meditative film on life, hope, survival, death and family relations. A hopeful, poignant and almost disturbing film about starting over and one that will leave nobody indifferent.

  The Japanese Dog
  Victor Rebengiuc
  Tudor Christian Jurgiu
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