Rating: 3 stars out of 5
The Stars: Kaho, Kenichi Endo, Naho Toda, Yasufumi Terawaki, Yusuke Yamamoto, Momoka Ohno
The Story: Motivated by her Father’s success as a police dog trainer, Kyoko aspires to follow in his footsteps. So she’s delighted when she manages to earn an apprenticeship at the family-run Murugame Training School, where Kyoko connects with a new Labrador puppy, Kinako - all ready to be sold off as a pet because of her weak constitution. Taking pity on the dog, she’s determined to whip Kinako into shape and transform her into an outstanding police asset. But after Kinako fails numerous training tests, Kyoko realizes she really has her work cut out for her.
The Buzz: From Shochiku Films, the same production house that brought you other animal-themed, cuteness overloads like 10 Promises To My Dog and Panda Days, Kinako is based on a true story and primarily set in the scenic Kagawa prefecture.
inSing.com thinks: Nobody does adorable like Japanese films about kids or dogs. Put those two together and you basically have one lethal potion of delightfulness enough to inflict anyone with a massive toothache. While Kyoko (a magnificently earnest Kaho) is more idealistic teenaged girl than mischievous little tot, Nina (Ohno) – the Murugame family’s youngest daughter, provides sufficient childish exploits to make you simultaneously want to grin and throttle the tiny minx. Her initial disdain for Kyoko and snide retorts might come across as unrealistically grown-up, but Ohno handles her role with such precocious pizzazz it almost makes you wish she was the film’s protagonist.
Kinako’s underdog (pun completely unintentional) chronicle is occasionally trite and utterly predictable towards the end, nevertheless it manages to retain much of its charisma thanks to a largely winsome cast. Model-turned-actress Kaho, despite her wide-eyed bewildered expressions which can become quite annoying to watch after a while, splashes Kyoko’s girlish gung-ho with an appropriate dose of radiant naivety. Terawaki, who plays Kyoko’s gruff mentor and owner of the Murugame Police Dog Training School, similarly imbues his character’s brusque nature with soft spots that are equally endearing to behold. Even Yamamoto (Handsome Suit, Rookies), likely put there just to appease the fan-girls, turns in an understated but affecting performance as Kyoko’s troubled senior.
Anybody who’s had the pleasure and aggravation of raising a dog will also immediately connect with Kyoko’s predicament. As any dog owner can confirm, there’s no resisting those emotional-blackmail-puppy-eyes. So even when Kinako absolutely screws up her training test and makes a laughing stock of Kyoko on national television, run-of-the-mill animal-themed movie or not, you don’t really care because you’re too enamored by the little geezer.
Although not as cinematically attractive as 10 Promises To My Dog, Kinako is a lively if blatant effort to bank in on our natural inclination towards anything with paws and floppy ears. And quick aside to all dog-lovers, you might want to keep those Kleenexes handy.