Some films released to theatres find their audience immediately and become great success stories. Some, however find their audience on DVD. One such film is Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, starring Richard Gere. It was never released commercially in the U.S. (although it did play at the Seattle International Film Festival). I became curious about it when one of our customers ordered multiple copies of it to give to friends. Now I understand why. First of all, you have to be an animal lover to “get” the film, or forget it (One of my jaded and non-animal owner co-workers snickered when I told him some details of the film). And if you’re a dog lover, even better.
The story is very simple. A college professor named Parker Wilson (Gere) finds a lost Akita puppy at a train station one evening and takes him home after the station master (Jason Alexander) refuses to keep him. His wife Cate (a stern and humorless Joan Allen) is not on board with keeping the dog. His daughter (Sarah Roemer, currently of NBC’s The Event) is. They put up flyers in their little town looking for the pup’s owner, but when Allen sees the bond between her husband and the puppy, she relents and allows her husband to keep him. Parker names him “Hachi” after a Japanese colleague translates the number “ 8” symbol on the dog’s collar meaning good fortune. One day when Parker is leaving to take the train to work, Hachi escapes from their yard and follows his owner there. This eventually becomes a routine with Hachi accompanying Parker everyday to the train station to see his master off and then returning in the evening to greet him and walk him home. Hachi becomes known in the town by the train passengers, shopkeepers, and especially by the nearby food vendor Jasjeet (Erik Avari) and bookstore owner Mary Ann (Davenia McFadden).
One day Parker does not return home on the train, and Hachi waits and waits for him until Parker’s son-in-law comes to retrieve the dog. Parker (SPOILER ALERT!!!) has suffered cardiac arrest at work and died. The next day, Hachi goes to the train station to wait again. After the funeral Parker’s wife Cate sells their house, moves away and sends Hachi off to live with her daughter and her husband and her young son. (Allen’s role as the wife is not defined enough to understand her motivations. She just comes off cold.) Hachi is not content there, though. He escapes from them to go to the train station to once again wait for his master. Eventually Hachi just stays at the train station, surviving on food given to him by commuters while keeping his vigil for Parker. This goes on for years and catches the attention of a newspaper reporter who publicizes Hachi’s loyalty. Parker’s wife returns 10 years later and is amazed to see the now aged Hachi still at his spot at the train station. Hachi: A Dog’s Tale is based on a true story. The original took place in Japan in 1924 at Shibuya Station, where a statue of the real dog Hachiki stands and continues to be a meeting place for commuters.
The film is unabashedly sentimental and family friendly (G-rated) and is ably directed by Lasse Hallstrom (What’s Eating Gibert Grape, Dear John and, most appropriately, My Life as a Dog), who employs the device of sometimes seeing things from Hachi’s perspective. (These scenes are in black and white, as dogs supposedly do not see color) I am purposely leaving out some details of the film, as to not spoil it for those who have not seen it and hopefully will. This poignant story of faithfulness and loyalty is akin to other animal films like Born Free, Greyfriar’s Bobby, The Yearling and Old Yeller. And like them, you will need a tissue box close by.