Hachiko: A Dog's Story

One of the most mystical, yet common links between two ordinary creatures is the one between a dog and its human. We love being reminded of them through literature and movies:
  • Call of the Wild
  • Lassie, Come Home
  • Old Yeller

Many films have been made honoring this link and we love them all. While visiting Edinburgh, Scotland a few years ago, our bus passed a statue of Greyfriars Bobby, the real-life Skye Terrier whose endless devotion was memorialised in books and history. After his master died, Bobby visited his grave every day until his own death 14 years later.

Japan has its own legend of equal power. Screenwriter Kaneto Shindô did a Japanese-language version of that story in 1987, then collaborated with Stephen P. Lindsey to create this Americanized film about an Akita puppy that happens into the life of a successful suburbanite played by Richard Gere ("Nights in Rodanthe"). Since our hero commutes by train to the city each day and had discovered the eponymous puppy at the train station, that location becomes the touchstone between man and dog; the dog walks him to the commuter train each morning and meets it at 5:00 PM each evening.

"Hachi" is directed with a deft touch by Swedish director Lasse Hallström ("My Life as a Dog" which, strangely enough, has nothing to do with a dog, "Chocolat" and "Cider House Rules"). Joan Allen (the "Bourne" trilogy and "The Upside of Anger") plays Gere's gentle and under- standing wife.

The film was made with special care; I particularly enjoyed:

  • The effect when we saw things through the dog's eyes: Everything was in black and white and from his perspective.
  • The most "evil" thing anyone does in the entire movie is when the wife says, "No dogs!" (Of course she capitulates right away.)
  • Gere down on all fours with a tennis ball in his teeth, trying to teach the puppy to "fetch."
  • The sight of a happy family, living its life, growing older and changing over the years.

The appearance of "Hachiko" at the 2009 Seattle International Film Festival seems to be the official release date in the U.S.

Bring two hankies...