From its very opening — police find a junked out vehicle with two bodies, a long-dead male and a more recently deceased dog — you know that Takashi Murakami’s Stargazing Dog (NBM) is going to end on a melancholy note. And so this best-selling manga does, though writer/artist Murakami also manages to imbue his effectively sentimental dog tale with enough lightness to keep it from bludgeoning you.
The story of Daddy, a somewhat dim patriarch who loses his job, home, and family — but never the company of his loyal pup Happie — Stargazing Dog tracks Daddy’s misfortunes through the canine’s naive eyes. To Happie, all that matters is the time he spends with his owner. When Daddy loses his job, for instance, the dog is overjoyed to have walks in the daytime; when the two travel south, living out of Daddy’s car, all the dog sees is a “fun road trip.” Just being in Daddy’s presence is sufficient. Everything else is just details.
With its opening panels of dragonflies buzzing around the trashed car to its penultimate scene where a bedraggled Daddy and Happie look up at the night sky, Stargazing Dog has a visual sweetness that carries you through even its saddest moments. The key to it all proves the title character, of course, who views Daddy’s downfall through a childlike/canine perspective. As Murakami notes in an “Afterword,” the tragic flaw of Happie’s master proves his inability (or perhaps unwillingness) to adapt to the changing world around him. Yet, ironically, it’s the constancy of his dog who provides his salvation. “I lost everything,” the human tells his companion at one point, “but as you are sitting next to me, I’m strangely happy.”
The title story is followed in NBM’s edition by a 50-page sequel, “Sunflowers,” about a social worker named Okutsu who is driven to learning the story behind the nameless vagrant and his dog. In so doing, he recalls his own life living with a pair of elderly ailing grandparents and the dog they’d given him for the day they passed away. In this piece, the meaning of the book’s title is explained. “It’s an expression for a person who hopes for too much,” Okutsu notes, adding that it’s human nature for all of us to do so. In the end, the companionship of Daddy and his dog stands for something that is attainable in our lives — even in an era when so many other dreams are being dashed. No wonder this book resonated so much in its native land.
“I myself was also saved by my own dog,” Murakami writes in his “Afterword.” We don’t doubt him at all.