A Shiba in the star role 

At the 7th International Film Festival 2004 in Shanghai the film Walking with the Dog (Inu to Arukeba: Chirori to Tamura, Japan 2003) by the Japanese film-maker Makoto Shinozaki (born 1963) was awarded as best film. In the star roles are Naoki Tanaka, Ryo and a (non-purebred) Shiba named Chirori.

The film is about Yasuyuki (Naoki Tanaka) whose relation to his girlfriend Miwa (Ryo) has entered a state of crisis. When Miwa's mother falls seriously ill she moves out of their joint apartment to take care of her mother. Parted from his girlfriend, without a job or money, Yasuyuki comes across an abandoned dog one night in the town. The dog follows him until he finally puts him up. He calls him Tamura.

On a hospital visit Yasuyuki detects Tamura's talent to cheer up old and sick people and while watching by chance a TV program about therapy dogs he decides to train Tamura to become a therapy dog. Through Tamura who with his "social" capabilities is along with others a last consolation for Miwa's critically ill mother, Yasuyuki finally succeeds in winning back the affections of his girlfriend.

Films featuring dogs are very popular in Japan. In a longer interview the director Makoto Shinozaki however points out that he did not want to make another film in the style of "Lassie" or "Beethoven". Even though Tamura's cleverness and charm are at the centre, this is not a tear-jerker with cute dogs following the American pattern. The film is rather intended to show the responsible work of therapy dogs. For this reason authentic scenes with real trainers and real therapy dogs are incorporated in the fictitious plot.

The Shiba Chirori is also in real life a therapy dog and not a specially trained film dog. In his interview the director also talks about the shooting programme with the dog. He was surprised at how easy the work was. All he had to do was tell Chirori's real trainer how the dog should act and then the scene could be shot.

The film on DVD is only for sale in Japanese.

© Dr. Holger Funk 2004