Warsaw 2013 Review: Minimalist THE JAPANESE DOG Is A Feature Debut Worth Noticing
Tudor Cristian Jurgiu's debut feature stars Victor Rebengiuc, one of the most famous Romanian actors, as Costache, an old widower and flood victim living in one of the country's rural villages. Forced to stay temporarily in a replacement house Costache is a conscious prisoner of a rather insipid everyday routine that is suddenly disrupted because of some surprising news. Namely, his son Ticu decided to come home after hearing the news of his mother's sudden death. The old man isn't sure what to expect from that meeting and the fact that the whole community begins gossiping about Ticu, who long time ago abandoned a prospectless life close to home for a hope of a better future in Japan, a country he knew nothing about, is making him more and more anxious and angry. Though awkward at first, the encounter encourages Costache to re-asses his beliefs, opinions and open his mind to new experiences.
The Japanese Dog is a picture that uses landscapes, sounds of nature and single-camera setup as a mean to express its very low-key style and composed ambiance. There's not a single shot that should be cut out, everything seem perfectly in order and the final effect is a splendid and visually stunning one. Right from the first scene the director announces that the events which are about to take place won't be filled with action, and that's a statement that makes the picture seem real, condensed, raw and thus more emotionally engaging. Costache is fully aware of his position and though he finds the idea of having a Japanese daughter-in-low and grandson hard to swallow at first, his attitude towards the two changes immediately after he sees them.
It's always interesting to observe how different cultures communicate on a daily basis and I honestly think that The Japanese Dog shows that kind of communication in a truly authentic manner. Even though the wife and the child understand and speak Romanian there's still a visible distance between them and Costache and no matter how hard they try to break the cross-cultural wall it still remains to be seen somewhere between the characters.
Throughout those few days spent with his family the protagonist gets a new reason to enjoy his life and Rebengiuc uses his acting skills perfectly in order to depict the old man's newfound satisfaction mixed with disappointment when he realizes that the gleeful days will end soon. He tries to convince his son to live with him again in a year or two and when he turns down that proposition Costache gets angry and boozes up. That scene of him drinking with his friend and re-telling a fight that he got into some time ago is a climax of sorts, the character's mild outburst and his only moment of weakness, yet a short one. When his son and the family leave, Costache reborn with a new passion for living decides to go on a trip of his own in an ending that cleverly leaves room for interpretation.