At the base of Japan's Tokyo Tower, a pack of dogs prowls in perpetuitystatues erected to commemorate 13 sled dogs left behind in Antarctica by a Japanese research expedition in 1958. A subsequent expedition returned almost a year later to find that two dogs had survived. Their story inspired the 1983 film Nankyoku Monogatari, here Disneyed with a winterized Paul Walker, fresh from plumbing the depths of camp and the ocean in last summer's Into the Blue. Sidekick Jason Biggsstill best known for lustily penetrating a tinful of freshly baked Americanathankfully leaves the innocence of all welcoming Antarctic snowbanks intact. Alas, it's too wide a credibility crevasse for the audience to leap: from pie-poker to subzero cartographer. Despite this minor deficiency, a gorgeous art film full of snowy silences and spare, gestural performances threatens to break loose (the most inspired acting comes courtesy of the canines), though the plot's slavish schmaltz proves as oppressive as the harsh winter that descends upon the dogs. At least it's comforting to know that dogs, left to their own devices in a barren land, get stoned and trip out on the aurora borealis, just like their masters might.
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