Hachi: A Dog’s Tale

by | Mar 30th, 2010 | 7:00AM | Filed under: DVD Reviews, Movies

Richard Gere finds a puppy at a train station. It grows up into a deeply loyal dog. And that’s it. And yet a beautiful, emotionally engaging film–Hachi: A Dog’s Tale–has been painted around that elegant, uncomplicated premise.

In some ways, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale—a simple story of the bond between a man and his very loyal canine–is a very strange film.

For starters, it’s an American remake of a Japanese film that itself was based on a true Japanese story. In 1920s Japan there was a real Akita named Hachiko who has become legendary in that country for a straightforward act of canine loyalty. He did not pull anyone from a burning house, fight off a mountain lion, or find a lost child. But what he did is somehow more touching by nature of its unassuming steadfast grace.

What’s odd about Hachi—directed by Lasse Hallström (Dear John, Chocolat) and starring Richard Gere, Joan Allen, and Jason Alexander–is that it’s a remake of a 1987 Japanese film version of Hachiko’s tale. The current G-rated movie was released into theaters in Asia and Europe (as Hachiko: A Dog’s Story), but not the United States—until now on DVD.

Watching Hachi, you can almost understand why it didn’t get a US theatrical release–but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have. You see, Hachi has no real plot—at least not in the A begats B begats C notion that we normally think of movie narrative. The film opens with an adorable Akita puppy shipped from a Japanese monastery to the United States, where he’s accidentally waylaid at a Rhode Island train station. Gere’s character, a college professor, finds the dog and of course, despite the objections of his wife (Allen) and his own misgivings, he falls for it and keeps it.

And that’s really about it for much of the film. Gere finds a nice dog, they play and bond. The film doesn’t gin up a lot of flash or fuss around its tale or tack on subplots and interpersonal dramas. There are no contrived crises. No melodramatic conflicts past the wife’s initial, quickly converted disapproval. There is just a man and his dog, happy together.

Given Hachi’s gentle slightness, you can see where perhaps theater audiences might have started to wonder, “Is this all there is?” But the home DVD viewing experience is often more personal, more open and intimate—and seen with those eyes, Hachi feels reassuring rather than boring. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a good-looking film, filled with pleasant actors of a certain age and warm, rustic Thomas-Kincaid-style homes, barns, and train stations.

Eventually two things do happen, one following from the other, and they are the reason the real Hachiko has his own statue at a train station in Japan. But in the film these things don’t come with thunderclaps or great portents—they just happen as such things do in real life, without much fanfare. Hallström’s built a film around a very small but touching story and he maintains a quiet earnestness about that story’s low-key beauty.

Sure, it’s schmaltzy. You can criticize Hachi as sappy, manipulative, and thematically thin as a greeting card–I suspect that’s another factor that kept it out of American theaters. But tempting as it may be to dismiss it as a lazy exercise in cheap emotional pandering, it’s not. Hachi is a purposefully and well-constructed film in which its sparse narrative structure becomes the point.

This is not Marley & Me, where we see the dog in terms of how he fits into the humans’ lives. This really is Hachi’s story, told from his point of view, and the fact his story is not melodramatic or epic gives Hachi a somewhat poetic Zen quality—it feels like a haiku, powered by its minimalism. (On the other hand, Hallström’s occasional use of a black & white “dog’s eye view” cam is too artificial, at times jarring you out of the film’s spell.)

In the end, Hachi may not have a lot to say, but what it does say is deeply moving. Its one idea, one point and purpose is to show with great respect and reverence the honest connection between human and dog. And yes, if you’ve ever owned a dog, you will surely cry. Not at anything “bad” that happens in Hachi (no animals or humans are imperiled or violently harmed in the film), but for how touching and steady handed the portrayal of that bond is.

15 Responses to “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale

  1. Fiirvoen
    Posted on March 30, 2010 at 10:50 am

    My wife bawls her eyes out every time the preview comes on TV. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t get to me a bit as well.

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Posted on March 30, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    This was a very good movie. It was very sad and shows how loyal dogs can be to their owners. I recommend it to any dog lover.

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Posted on March 30, 2010 at 7:50 pm

    If you have ever loved a dog, this movie will touch you.

    Have an entire box of tissues ready though…because, honest to God, I cried my eyes out for a good portion of the movie.
    It is not just the end that is the tear jerker, it is probably at least half of the movie.

  2. carol
    Posted on March 30, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    Would this be appropriate for 3rd graders? What is the rating?

  3. Locke Peterseim
    Locke Peterseim
    Posted on March 30, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    Hi Carol, it’s rated G, so yes, very appropriate for all ages.

  4. Jonathan
    Posted on March 30, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    this is not for a family young child movie – [SPOILERS] the heartattack and death can not be explained to the young children nor the death of the dog. should be in the drama section not family/children

  5. Michelle
    Posted on March 30, 2010 at 10:32 pm

    LOVED IT. My own dog comforted me during and after the flick—

  6. Locke Peterseim
    Locke Peterseim
    Posted on March 30, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    [SPOILERS] Actually, the death of the dog is not really made overt (certainly NOT as overt as in Marley & Me) — he gets old, the movie ends. And as for the death of the other character, I think most kids of mid-elementary age understand (or should) the nature and reality of death. I’d rather they see death like this, natural and realistic, than in yet another cartoonish GI Joe-style action film.

    • Currently 3/5 Stars
    Posted on April 3, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    I jut rented it tonight! Locke thanks for another great recommendation! BTW, Locke my family (and I) reserved An Education because this site told me it was a great film, and it’s five stars on this site, so thanks again!

    I loved this film and yeah, I bawled my eyes out at the end. This film kind of reminded me of Marley and Me a little bit. The film is touching. Hachi: A Dog’s Tale is a gem.

  7. Tim
    Posted on April 5, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Rented movie through Redbox and kept it for a few days; wished I had watched it sooner, not because of rental fees but because it’s the kind of movie that I will buy and watch over and over.

    Takes your mind off any kind of worries you might have and yeah it’s rated G but everybody can take something away from this movie.

  8. kellyk
    Posted on April 6, 2010 at 9:07 am

    this movie was soooo sad! my husband was even crying!! side note-you never see hinm crying watching a movie!!

  9. kellyk
    Posted on April 6, 2010 at 9:10 am

    Tear jerker! This movie had my husband and me crying!

  10. deanna
    Posted on April 10, 2010 at 9:32 am

    i just fell in love when i saw this movie it made me cry in the end at how sad it was.

    i thought that the love that dog had for his owner was so so beautiful i i i thought it deserves 5 stars :):(

  11. Ralph
    Posted on September 2, 2010 at 9:47 am

    this should be shown here in Philippines

  12. Catherine
    Posted on February 14, 2011 at 1:25 am

    I will never ever forget this film. A very touching film that made me cry and even my sis. Even I watch it for the nth times I will never get bored. To all the dog lovers please watch it. For sure you will cry. I fell in love with the movie.