This one’s strictly for dog lovers. Many will watch it and fail to see the appeal and many will also try to approach it from a primarily artistic point of view, and will be left unsatisfied. Lasse Hallström’s Hachi: A Dog’s Tale is simple and straight-forward, but so gentle and loving. It may not speak to the brain, but it gets directly to the heart — and it does so in a very warm and tender way. It may not push cinematic boundaries, but it follows a beautiful relationship between a great man and his extraordinary dog, a relationship that sticks with you for a long time after viewing the film. There is no escaping the tears and heartache that Hachi’s story will bring, but there is also no escaping the affection and admiration that it creates towards man and his best friend. In fact, whoever finds himself unaffected at the end of the film, is without doubt, made of stone.
Based on a true story, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale was inspired by a real Japanese Akita dog and his owner in 1920’sJapan. In the film, the puppy is found by college professor Parker Wilson (Richard Gere) who, after trying to find an owner for him and failing, decides to keep him and make him part of the family. The bond that each member develops with this magnificent dog is beautiful, but the connection between Gere’s character and the Japanese Akita is pure pleasure to watch. Every morning Parker Wilson and his dog walk together to the train station, where they say goodbye for the day and Parker takes the train to work. When he returns to the station in the evening, Hachi is there, waiting for him — both excited to reunite. Even when Parker doesn’t come back, Hachi is still there, waiting to find him at the train station…
Initially produced in 1987 as Hachikô Monogatari, the original Japanese film was written by Kaneto Shindô and directed by Seijirô Kôyama. In 2010 it was rewritten and adapted to fit Western standards by Stephen P. Lindsey, and although some points were altered to suit the story’s new audience, the essence of this remarkable tale remained the same. What cannot be stressed enough is what an excellent choice Richard Gere was for Parker Wilson’s character. Although the actor has showcased his impressive skills a number of times before — with Unfaithful, I’m Not There, Internal Affairs and The Cotton Club topping his long list of great performances — we are very rarely let in on the actor’s softer, goofier and warmer side. It’s not often that we get this Richard Gere, and it’s worth admitting that he’s been an unexpected delight in Hachi: A Dog’s Tale. As far as the several Japanese hounds that took on Hachi’s role are concerned — no words could ever describe the pleasure they are to watch and the sincere kindness they exude.
Critics seem to hate it, which shows us that they can’t be trusted. If you’re looking to get the ultimate cinematic experience, forget it. But if a Japanese hound’s sweetness and the gentle and meaningful connection that a man and his dog establish, could touch you, then Hachi: A Dog’s Tale is strongly recommended. Lasse Hallström‘s film achieves a balance that is rather difficult for its genre — a perfect in-between which never allows the story to become tiring or cheesy. It also refrains from becoming overly cute or melodramatic. It’s sad, since it deals with a sad story, but it is also meaningful and affectionate. In the end, you’re left with a bittersweet aftertaste that restores a bit of your love for humankind, reminds you of the importance of loyalty and friendship and forces you to once again recognise the grandeur of love in all of its forms.