Review: ‘Hachi: A Dog’s Story’

'Hachi: A Dog's Story'

A loyal Akita demonstrates the meaning of unconditional love in Lasse Hallstrom's simple tearjerker.

A loyal Akita demonstrates the meaning of unconditional love in Lasse Hallstrom’s simple tearjerker “Hachi: A Dog’s Story.” Sentimental, repetitive tale of a university professor (Richard Gere, also producing) losing his heart to a lost puppy harks back to the values, production and otherwise, of an earlier era. No “Marley and Me,” despite a few comic setpieces, pic faces a marketing challenge due to its retro feel and relative dullness. It’s family-friendly rather than family fare; kids are likely to be bored stiff. Ancillary will probably draw the biggest numbers.

Inspired by real events that occurred in 1920s Japan, as well as the 1987 Nipponese blockbuster “Hachiko monogatari” directed by Seijiro Koyama, the problematic script by Stephen P. Lindsay transposes the action to a small New England town in the 1990s. His imaginary burg of Bedridge (here repped by Rhode Island’s Woonsocket and Bristol) is an idyllic bedroom suburb full of friendly tradespeople, apparently without a leash law and with no dog catcher in sight.

A 2007-set framing story starts with 11-year-old Ronnie (Kevin Decoste) telling his class why his grandfather’s dog Hachi embodies heroism. Pic segues to the cold winter night when Parker Wilson (Gere) finds the pooch (played by extremely cute but continuity-confusing Shiba Inu puppies of different sizes) on the local train platform. It’s love at first sight.

Sure that someone will claim the animal, Parker hauls it to the large home he shares with wife Cate (Joan Allen). She’s ultimately persuaded that the rambunctious pup should stay when she sees her hubby on his hands and knees as he models the art of fetching. The dog gets his name when Parker’s Japanese colleague Ken (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) translates the tag on its collar as Hachi, the Japanese word for “eight.”

After an unidentified length of time passes, Hachi appears fully grown (now played by three regally expressive Akitas) and a bit more obedient. He accompanies Parker to the train station and returns again to escort him home every day. The town’s many commuters, as well as station ticket agent Carl (Jason Alexander) and hot-dog vendor Jasjeet (Erick Avari), regularly witness the pair’s mutual affection.

When the day comes that Parker doesn’t get off the train, Hachi is unable to process the notion that his master will not return. For 10 years, progressively more broken in body, he stands vigil at the station, his fidelity inspiring newspaper celebrity and subsequent donations for his care.

If audience reaction at the screening caught is any indication, the theme of time passing and never forgetting the one you loved is most likely to resonate with older viewers. Even so, the dog’s silent distress and dignity will move all but the hardest hearts.

Pic’s main problem is that its human story lacks drama; Hachi’s the central attraction. As thesps who advise their colleagues never to work with dogs realize, it’s hard to compete with these natural scene-stealers. Every one of the canines here evinces such sensitivity and charisma that the filmmakers felt obliged to run a disclaimer stressing that Akitas are not suited to casual pet owners.

Although Geregets points for being licked and jumped on and even sharing the bathtub with a dog, Parker isn’t one of his most memorable roles. Indeed, all of the characters suffer from being defined almost solely by their relationship to the dog: Allen is almost wasted as the understanding wife forced to share her hubby’s caresses. A scene near the end does allow her to show some real emotion, but even then it’s buried in a dog pelt.

Hallstrom, worlds away from the sharp observations of “My Life as a Dog,” seems overly comfortable in the rut of sentimental comic dramas he’s fallen into. Although he mostly avoids the maudlin, he does offer up some irritating doggie-cam moments, a sepia vision of the world through Hachi’s eyes that doesn’t serve any real purpose except to generate a cheap laugh or an “aww.”

Tech credits are fine apart from the overuse of Jan A.P. Kaczmarek’s lachrymose score.

Hachi: A Dog's Story

Production

A Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group presentation of an Inferno, Stage 6 Films production, in association with Opperman Viner Chrystyn Entertainment, Hachi, Grand Army Entertainment, Scion Films. (International sales: Sony Pictures Worldwide, Los Angeles.) Produced by Vicki Shigekuni Wong, Bill Johnson, Richard Gere. Executive producers, Jim Seibel, Paul Mason, Jeff Abberley, Julia Blackman, Warren T. Goz, Stewart McMichael. Co-producer, Dean Schnider. Co-executive producers, Tom Luse, Sam Frankel. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom. Screenplay, Stephen P. Lindsay, based on the motion picture "Hachiko monogatari," written by Kaneto Shindo, directed by Seijiro Koyama.

Crew

Camera (color), Ron Fortunato; editor, Kristina Boden; music, Jan A.P. Kaczmarek; production designer, Chad Detwiller; costume designer, Deborah Newhall; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), Anton Gold; dog trainer, Boone Narr; associate producers, Michael Viner, Dwight Opperman, Julie Chrystyn, Roxanna Farzaneh. Reviewed at Seattle Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), June 11, 2009. Running time: 93 MIN. (English, Japanese dialogue)

With

Parker Wilson - Richard Gere Cate Wilson - Joan Allen Ken - Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa Carl - .Jason Alexander Jasjeet - Erick Avari Ronnie - Kevin Decoste

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  1. Serj Sanctum says:

    Are people stupid or do they just act like it to piss people off? This movie is about hachi the DOG. It’s in the title. If you want a story about humans theres billions of movies already. Stupidity knows no bounds it seems.

  2. Emotionally connected says:

    Dear Alissa: If your emotionally dead inside then you would naturally feel the movie is lacking. My advice is try to connect emotionally with anything living rather than with pen and paper!

  3. James says:

    Seriously the worst movie review I have ever read.

  4. james says:

    it’s a story ABOUT the dog. thick as a brick

  5. Vidisha Kumar says:

    While it is true that the humans lack a back story and Hachi is the central attraction, that’s the whole point of it. It’s a “dog’s tale”. I don’t think a dog is going to reflect on anyone other than the person it shows that kind of single – minded devotion.

    I agree that the actors were somewhat wooden and did not show much emotional eloquence or any poignant, weighty character development, they were pretty much the riff – raff of a film that wasn’t even about them. The film was focused on one aspect and one aspect only, as it very well should have been – a retelling of the real – life tale.

    The dog’s view does seem pointless at times unless you have the ability to emotionally connect. To the surface observer, it’s inane and asinine. The film was about emotionally connecting – faith, loyalty, devotion, some of those things that matter at the heart of a literary endeavor. As an unofficial writer (I’m 14 and therefore too young; also, I watched this film as a kid and came out of the theater with both eyes teary), I believe that if writing be a labor of love, then this was a film made purely for creation’s sake.

    Your words were compelling, and I intend not to contradict you but to put forward my point. I appreciate that you have given a fairly impartial review. Constructive criticism makes it easier to know when and where one must improve.

    Thank you for your time.

    Regards,
    Vidisha

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