Directed by Lasse Hallström
Starring Richard Gere, Joan Allen, Sara Roemer, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Jason Alexander, Erick Avari
Screenplay by Stephen P. Lindsey
A movie comes around every once in a while that tells a tale so astounding, that no one could make it up. Back in 1920’s Japan, a professor at the University of Tokyo, had an Akita pup named Hachiko, that walked with him everyday to the train station. The dog, Hachiko, would then go home, and when 5 o’clock came, he’d be waiting for his master at the station. This continued for a couple of years when, after suffering a fatal cerebral hemorrhage at work, his master did not come home. Hachiko waited and waited. For eight years, he waited.
Hachi is a somber, beautiful and hopeful and very real drama for those who have ever had love for a dog and, indeed, felt that love returned. That they have added some touches here and there:
- The location is moved from just outside of Tokyo to outside of Bristol, Connecticut.
- The time is now in the late 90’s through the 2000’s.
- The family is Caucasian.
- Hachi is found at the train station after his crate is busted open.
These modifications change not one whit the spirit of the film. As Professor Parker Wilson, Richard Gere is open to everything. Hachi is at first a curious surprise, he bonds with the puppy and learns much about his breed in a short time with the help of his friend, Ken (Tagawa). His wife Cate (Allen) is at first nonplussed by the idea, but she comes to accept the dog’s newfound role in your husband’s life.
A curious plot device is the attempt by Parker to teach the dog to fetch. He works on this for a considerable amount of time before discovering from Ken that Akitas do not fetch, ‘unless there is a reason to do so.’ This, of course, is prevalent to the plot, but nonetheless a very nice touch.
Hachi… (also know abroad as Hachiko) is full of very nice touches. Hallström has not approached a movie with such nuance since What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? And, after the debacle that was Dear John, it had begun to look as if his best days were behind him. Happy to say, this is not true.
One of the true gifts to this movie is the sparse amount of dialogue. The subtle sounds of the soundtrack, and even silence, pervade through the latter half of the film, adding a poignancy to the plight of all characters, including Hachi. My wife and I struggled to hold back tears the last 20 minutes of the story. It is a classic, but thoroughly exhausting film.
Richard Gere has learned a lot in his years in front of the camera. Intriguingly, he has learned to say more while talking less.
This absolutely lends itself to the strength of the film, preventing cliché from taking over where it normally would in an animal movie. It is obvious the amount of love he has for life in this movie: his wife, his daughter and the dog.
The rest of the cast is stellar as well. Joan Allen gives an outstanding performance as a flawed person. Rather than just walk through the motions, she reacts in ways that are at once sad, and quite believable. Jason Alexander is exactly the kind of person you would expect to work a train station in a small town. Happy to help…but not too much. Erick Avari gives a touching performance as a vendor who leads with his heart. His reactions represent, in large part, the reactions of the viewer. He hits a home run with a small part.
One would be hard pressed to come up with the last movie about an animal that was as good as Hachi: A Dog’s Tale. The Black Stallion is probably the one that comes closest in feeling. Coppola expressed the same confidence there that LasseHallström does here. There are little things in life that we are often too busy to notice. Hallström notices, and through him, so do we.
I had a dream about my wife’s cat last night. It was a sad dream, filled with unresolved guilt for times I just looked at him as someone to avoid tripping over in the mornings when I would head downstairs. The dream, no doubt spurred by this movie, made me realize the gifts that small life brought into my world and the affect my life had on his world. For this reason, Hachiko… is a movie not to be missed, if you like movies about love and loyalty in the face of life’s eternal struggle.
(***** out of *****)