Hachi: A Dog’s Tale

Hollywood has enjoyed a long love affair with man’s best friend. From 1943’s Lassie Come Home to last year’s Marley and Me, shaggy dog tales have always been a staple on the big screen, with the canine star often outshining the human actors. This is certainly true of Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, which pits Richard Gere and Joan Allen against the cutest of fluffy Akita puppies and an impeccably trained full-grown version. Though the story is more bark than bite, this is still a sweet little tale, well directed and well acted.

Real Life Lassie

Hachi is a retelling of the true story of a loyal Japanese Akita who, in the 1920s, waited each day for his professor master at Shibuya station in Tokyo for ten years after the professor had passed away. The dog became a national treasure in Japan and was immortalised with a bronze statue at the exact spot outside the station where he had waited all those years. In 1987 Hachi’s story was told on screen in the Japanese blockbuster Hachiko Monogatari.

Not Just a Shaggy Dog Story

Hallstrom’s version pays homage to these cultural roots, starting the action in a Buddhist temple, where a monk packages up the little Akita puppy and sends it via airmail to America. By pure chance, the puppy wriggles free from its crate at a small-town station, just as Gere’s character Parker Wilson is coming home from his own journey. Parker, a music professor, has promised his wife Cate (Allen) he won’t get another dog, and she is not happy when he sneaks Hachi into their beautiful, picket-fenced home. The bond between Parker and Hachi grows despite the family’s attempts to find his real owners. Parker sneaks the puppy to his university, letting him wander among ballet dancers during a rehearsal, and spends hours trying to teach the dog to ‘fetch’. Eventually Cate relents and lets Parker keep Hachi. The pup grows up and it’s not long before he’s digging his way under the garden fence to follow Parker to the station. This quickly turns into a routine: Hachi walks Parker to the station each morning and returns to greet his master at the same time every evening. He becomes a familiar sight among the local shopkeepers and the station master (Jason Alexander), pulling together the small community with his unswerving loyalty.

It’s A Dog’s Life

While Gere and Allen put in convincing performances as a devoted couple, the true stars are the dogs who play Hachi and the trainers who enticed every trick and puppy dog look out of them. While many dog movies can be little more than a schmaltz-fest, Hallstrom reins it in, keeping his meditation on love and everyday life just the right side of sentimental. Though the story is rather thin, this film is honest enough to melt even the stoniest of hearts. Dog lovers, this is one for you.

Did you shed a tear for little Hachi? Or were they barking up the wrong tree? Let us know…

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