×

Hachi: A Dog’s Story

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

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

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.

Popular on Variety

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)

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

More Scene

  • Logan Lerman Jordan Peele Al Pacino

    Al Pacino and Carol Kane Had a ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ Reunion on the ‘Hunters’ Set

    Nearly 45 years after Al Pacino and Carol Kane appeared in Sidney Lumet’s classic film “Dog Day Afternoon,” an Amazon Prime Video series about Nazi-hunters in 1977 New York City has brought them back together. Go figure. “I’m proud to be working with him again,” Kane told Variety at the “Hunters” premiere on Wednesday night [...]

  • Anya Taylor Joy Emma Premiere

    Anya Taylor-Joy on Playing Jane Austen's Clever, Callous Protagonist in 'Emma'

    It was an evening of elegance at the Los Angeles premiere of Focus Features’ “Emma” on Tuesday night. The red carpet was lined with pastel floral arrangements at the DGA Theater, priming visitors to be transported to the ornate pageantry of Georgian-era England, as depicted in this new adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic tale. Anya [...]

  • Tom Holland Chris Pratt Onward Premiere

    Tom Holland and Chris Pratt Show Off Real-Life Bond at Pixar's 'Onward' Premiere

    Pixar’s new movie “Onward” marks a reunion of sorts for Tom Holland and Chris Pratt. The two actors, who both have ties to Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe and most recently teamed in “Avengers: Endgame” as Spider-Man and Star-Lord, play brothers in the animated fantasy adventure. Their friendship has become a highlight of “Onward’s” promotional tour [...]

  • Da’Vine Joy Randolph

    Da’Vine Joy Randolph Praises Hulu's 'High Fidelity' for Telling a Realistic New York Story

    If HBO’s “Girls” characterized a certain type of young, disaffected millennial, fumbling cluelessly around a gentrifying Brooklyn, and if “Sex and the City” used Manhattan as a tantalizing playground for a class of well-connected, glamorous and decidedly 90s-bound women, both shows had one thing in common: they were painfully, inevitably white. “We’re gonna fix that!,” [...]

  • Harrison Ford Call of the Wild

    Why Harrison Ford Wanted to Play John Thornton in ‘The Call of the Wild’

    Joining legends like Charlton Heston and Clarke Gable, who have played the role of John Thornton in “The Call of the Wild,” Harrison Ford now stands next to a CGI-enhanced version of the dog named Buck in the latest adaptation of Jack London’s classic 1903 novel. “I thought the film has a lot to say [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content