Friday, January 20, 2012

Stargazing Dog by Takashi Murakami

The discovery, in a field filled with Sunflowers, of the skeleton of a man in a wrecked car, and a dog's decomposing body nearby, leads to the caseworkers being summoned to discover how the man and the dog got to be there and how both died.

The dog's earliest memory is of a box, and being discovered and carried home by a young girl who cleans, feeds and adopts him, with the consent of her father. His earliest days are happy ones, but as he and the young girl get older, the family begins to fall apart. As the girl turns into a teenager, her relationship with her father turns dark and guarded, and this causes arguments between the man and his wife. Only the dog seems to love the man the same way, calling him "Daddy" and being happy to see him when he comes home and sharing long walks with him at night.

When the daughter finally announces she is leaving home, the marriage breaks under the weight of the declaration, and the man and the dog are left together. Tired of having to be on his own, the man takes his car, a bunch of possessions, and his money, and decides to return home to the south, where he originally came from. At first, the trip seems happy and carefree, but when the man tries to help out a shoplifting teenager and get him to straighten up and fly right, the boy repays him by stealing his wallet and all the money in it, leaving the man otherwise destitute. But his dog still loves him.

And when the dog is taken suddenly ill, the man must pawn his remaining possessions, except for the car, to pay the doctor to save the dog. How can he not? The dog is the only one left of his family who loves him, and is still always happy to see and be with him. But with only the car and a tiny bit of money, how will the man be able to survive? Especially when he, himself, is ill and cannot afford the money to pay for the medication that will keep him alive and healthy.

As the man and the dog keep on going, an attack of angina (or so it appears) makes the man crash his car into a field filled with sunflowers. They survive the crash uninjured, but with nowhere to go, and the only food they find being from the trash at a fairly popular campsite, how long can the two survive? And when the end comes, both will remain unfound for months. But will those who once loved the man and the dog ever know what happened to the two, and will they care that those they once loved are forever gone? The social worker, too, knows the unconditional love of a dog. Will he be able to track down the loved ones of the man and the dog, or will he be forced to admit defeat?

This manga is a stand alone story, and actually, a rather depressing one. But there are moments of stark beauty and absolute love between the man and the dog. The dog is the noble one, made only of love for the man, and always waiting, at the end, when the man is dead and decaying, for him to get back up and to walk and play with him. Reading his thoughts, uncomplicated and simple as they were, made me cry more than once during the story.

This book put me in mind of Hachiko- a dog who lost her owner when he was away at work, and so she waited for him faithfully to come home every day at the train station. Only, since her owner died when he was at work, he would never be coming home. And yet, still, not understanding, she went to the train station to wait for him, every day, until she, too, died. This book speaks powerfully to the loyalty, constancy and love of dogs for their owners- which many dog owners have trouble returning to their pets in equal measure. As the prayer goes, "God, help me be the kind of person my dog thinks I am."

Yet for all the depressing aspects of the subject, the book is powerfully moving, and beautiful as well, told through the dog's love for its owner, and the happiness and joy it finds in his company. The dog helps the man go on, even when everything seems lost, and when he is gone, the dog still cannot wait for the man to return, to find those happy times again. I say without reservation that this story made me cry, and still makes me cry when I think about it. Highly recommended- it's a three hanky read, but you won't regret letting this book into your life and your heart.

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