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  Junkers Come Here Bonkers for Junkers
Year: 1994
Director: Junichi Sato
Stars: Mei Oshitani, Shinnosuke Furumoto, Daisuke Sugata, Katsunari Mineno, Keiko Nakajima, Mayumi Iizuka, Misako Konno, Momoko Ishi, Naoto Kine, Sakiko Tamagawa, Hiroko Takahashi
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Animated, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Eleven year old Hiromi (voiced by Mei Oshitani) leads a lonely life with a workaholic mother (Misako Konno) at the office all day and a father directing TV commercials in France. Between lessons with live-in tutor Keisuke (Katsunari Mineno) and helping housemaid Fumie (Keiko Nakajima) with the daily chores, Hiromi finds it harder and harder to with increasingly brittle feelings. Luckily she has her little dog Junkers (Shinnosuke Furumoto) to help out with his special talents. Most notable being that Junkers can talk.

Frankly the opening credits clue us in that Junkers (pronounced 'Yoon-kers') is no ordinary dog. We see him use a flushing toilet at a public lavatory right before he photo-bombs Hiromi's school picture! Junkers Come Here was written and produced by J-pop star Naoto Kine. As lead guitarist he comprised one third of dance group TM Network together with singer Takashi Utsunomiya and keyboardist-producer Tetsuya Komuro. While Komuro went on to become Japan's most successful record producer, Kine diversified into writing young adult novels. Two of which were adapted into anime - the other being the fantasy adventure Carol (1990).

Conceptually similar to an earlier beloved anime Hello Spank! (1981), another story in which a talking dog helps a troubled little girl deal with personal problems, Kine's opus is a little less wacky. Its naturalistic art style grounds the outlandish premise resulting in a slice-of-life story with a faintly fantastical flourish. While essentially a string of episodic vignettes observing quirky characters interacting through mundane yet engaging activities the plot slowly evolves into a perceptive study of a child's reaction to her parents' divorce. For it turns out Hiromi's parents have been less than honest. It takes a little while for the shoe to drop but gradually the poor girl discovers their relationship has deteriorated past the point of repair. Sidestepping the sort of mawkish melodrama that would typically characterize a more mainstream Hollywood treatment, Junkers Come Here takes a subtler, more introspective approach that is both deeply Japanese and disarmingly heartfelt.

None of the characters bicker or scream or indulge in soap opera monologues. Hiromi's parents never come across as bad people even as the film depicts their behaviour as unintentionally cold, self-absorbed and negligent. At first Hiromi tries to distract herself by fixating on Keisuke. Initially as an adolescent crush (amusingly, frumpy Fumie is also hopelessly infatuated with the handsome young tutor) then later trying to salvage his broken relationship with fiancé Yoko (Sakiko Tamagawa) in lieu of being unable to do the same for her parents. But gradually she withdraws further and further into herself. Until it falls to Junkers, who throughout the story serves largely as an empathetic confidante, to help Hiromi reach a mature realization and, concluding an arc that again feels very Japanese, encourage her to express her true feelings. All of which happens in a finale that bursts the veneer of pseudo-realism with a visually striking, cathartic and literal flight of fancy.

Maintaining a low-key charm throughout Junkers Come Here stumbles with a few obtuse moments here and there. Yet at its brightest the film achieves a wry humanistic wit akin to the live-action social satires of Juzo Itami while the voice cast, particularly actress Mei Oshitani, are especially personable and moving. On top of that Junkers himself is a downright lovable cartoon canine.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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