Japan is now a country with more dogs and cats (23 million in 2009) than children under 16 (17 million, same year). As both a parent and a dog owner here, I understand why: Kids are enormously expensive to raise in Japan and, given the current grim employment situation, often live off Mommy and Daddy's largess well into adulthood. What do the parents get for their decades of sacrifice? Increasingly, a lonely existence in their old age, with only the occasional welfare worker checking in — or the kids collecting their pension checks after they're dead.

But dogs, as Yoshinari Nishikori's new drama ("dogudrama"?) "Wasao" makes clear in every sentimentalized frame, are loyal, lovable beasts who can live, if necessary, off the land. (My wife, of course, would kill me if I tried that experiment with our poodle.) And even when the title pooch, a white Akita, grows to the size of a small bear, he's still monstrously adorable (or as Japanese states it so succinctly, busa-kawa, or ugly-cute). Can you say the same about your overweight, out-of-work, 30-year-old son, playing video games in his pajamas until five in the morning?

In its outlines, the film's story is faithful to the true-life tale, widely circulated on the Internet and in the media, of an Akita (also the star of the film) who was abandoned as a puppy, but rescued and raised by a woman running a grilled-squid shop in the coastal town of Ajigasawa in Aomori Prefecture (which is used as the film's location).