Get out your hankies, folks. It’s yet another tearjerker from Japan. But this time there’s a puppy on the cover! Frankly, that’s about the only thing that could draw me into one of these things, as I usually resent the inherent manipulative nature of the tear-jerking genre.
Katsuhide Motoki’s 10 Promises to My Dog is actually an adaptation of a Hare Kawaguchi novel which was inspired by “The Ten Commandments for Dogs” by Stan Rawlinson, a list of specific rules of dog ownership as explained from a dog’s perspective. The film gives examples of each of these rules via a girl’s relationship with her dog as the two grow up together and lean on each other for support. While this may not be the pinnacle of innovation as far as setups go, it is a genuinely sweet movie with the power to reduce even the most modest of dog lovers to a blubbering mess.
As we’re introduced to the Saito family, it soon becomes apparent that Akari feels somewhat neglected by her father (Etsushi Toyokawa) as he chases success in his career as a top surgeon at the expense of time spent at home with his wife and daughter. Akari, at first played by teen actress Mayuko Fukuda, decides that she wants a dog to keep her company. One day she returns home from school and notices a tiny, wobbly-legged golden retriever puppy in her back yard. She calls out and chases it, but before she can catch it the phone rings. Her mother (Reiko Takashima) has been rushed to the hospital for what will eventually be revealed to be terminal cancer.
When Akari visits the hospital, her mother helps her name the dog “Socks” for the lightly colored fur on her paws. She then gives Akari the list of “Ten Promises” from Socks’s perspective as follows:
1) Listen patiently to what I have to say.
2) Trust me, for I am always on your side.
3) Play with me a lot.
4) Don’t forget that I have feelings too.
5) Let’s never fight, ‘Cause someday, I’ll be big enough to win.
6) If I don’t obey you, I have a good reason.
7) You have school, and friends. But as for me, I only have you.
8) Stay my best friend even when I’m old.
9) I’ll only live about ten years, so let’s make every moment count.
10) I’ll never forget our life together. So when my time comes, please be by my side.
After Akari’s mom dies, Socks helps her get over her sadness—not to mention a stress-induced neck cramp—by always being with her and cheering her up when she’s down. Over the next few years, Akari’s father quits his career as a surgeon and decides to build a small clinic in their house in order to spend more time with her. Akari, now played by Lena Tanaka, eventually becomes preoccupied with her new job at Asahiyama Zoo. And after being reunited with a childhood friend, Susumu (Ryo Kase), she stops spending as much time with Socks and gets really upset when she acts out. However, an incident with Susumu reminds Akari about how much Socks helped her through a hard time in her own life and she decides to never let that happen again.
There are absolutely no plot twists or breaking of new ground here; by now we’re all pretty accustomed to the conventions of a tearjerker. But dog lovers should definitely appreciate the overall message of responsibility weaved throughout as Akari’s relationship with Socks progresses from childhood through adulthood. In fact, anyone who has a dog or is planning on getting a dog someday should watch this movie simply to reinforce the one basic idea about dog ownership that seems to get overlooked most: it’s a two-way relationship and your dog completely depends on you for their happiness and well-being. It’s an important thing to remember—even if it takes a sappy, relentlessly sob-inducing movie to remind you.