Hachi: A Dog's Tale

Director: Lasse Hallstrom  
Richard Gere, Joan Allen, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa

In the hundreds of thousands of years during man's existence (or just approximately six thousand years, if you're one of those people who refuses to believe scientific data that reports, among other things, that there is no proof there was ever a world-wide flood), I think we can agree that we have made a number of extraordinary achievements. There is nothing like the human mind anywhere else on earth. Yet at the same time, I think it can be agreed upon that if an advanced alien race came to our corner of the universe, upon observing us they would conclude that there are certainly some very peculiar things about ourselves. One of these peculiar observations is that when it comes to other things on this planet Earth, we have numerous times tried to find ourselves in these other things. Think back when you were a child, for starters. Remember staring at that stain on the wall, and finding that if you looked at it right you could see a human face in that stain? I bet even as an adult, you have looked around you and have seen faces or other human shapes from oddly-shaped stains to clouds in the sky. Obviously, human beings have an instinct to look out for anything resembling human life. This instinct goes beyond looking for the sight of human life, but seeing if we can find anything resembling human life in things that are not human. Just take plants, for example. I am sure that over the years you have caught wind of scientific experiments that examine if plants react to humans in any way that could be compared to how humans would react to the same thing (talking to plants, for example.)

While humans have tried to look for signs of human-like intelligence in plants, many more times have humans tried looking for this in animals, obviously because just about any animal on earth can do a lot more things than a stationary plant. I think a secret hope is that if these scientists can find something human in an animal, then it's possible that mankind can control anything in his environment. There's been great interest with monkeys and apes, which are the species that are closest to our DNA (I read a chimpanzee matches our DNA by 99%), and there have been numerous experiments with them, from teaching them sign language to seeing if apes prefer cooked food over raw food. (The food experiment I read about stated that apes do prefer cooked food, if you're wondering.) But it's not just scientists who have taken animals and tried to find something human in them. Unscientific minds look for humanity in animals all the time. In the motion picture and television industry, there are many animal trainers who train animals to perform actions that make the animals look like they have a human brain. But when it comes to most unscientific human minds dealing with animals, not counting those humans who raise animals to provide food for themselves and other humans, the animals are treated as pets. Whether the pet is a bird or a cat, it is often treated as an equal, a member of the family it belongs to. I do sometimes wonder why some pet owners who get pets that they treat as humans don't get smarter animals. From what I've seen of rabbits, for example, they just sit in one place and twitch their nose 24/7. Personally, I find that hard to relate to.

One of the most popular animals - if not, the most popular animal - that is often treated like a member of the family is the dog. I've never owned a dog, but I've read enough about dogs and had enough experiences with dogs over the years to see their appeal. Some of the stories I've read Hachi: A Dog's Taleabout dogs have been amazing, showing at times what seems like human intelligence. And when I've come across a dog in person, their eagerness when I pet them shows that they have the human desires of love and acceptance just like us humans. Any story that promises a dog showing some kind of human spirit attracts me, which is why I decided to rent Hachi: A Dog's Tale when I spotted it in my neighborhood video store. I was especially interested by the fact that Richard Gere was in the movie, yet I had never heard of the movie before. (It turns out the movie was released straight to DVD.) Gere plays Parker Wilson, a resident of the small New England town of Bedridge, who each day travels by train to the university where he teaches. One night, when he is returning home from work, he finds a surprise waiting for him at the Bedridge train station - a cute Akita puppy wandering around the station. Unable to find any real clues as to the puppy's owner, he decides to bring it home temporarily until he can find the owner. As the days pass, and no sign of the puppy's owner in sight, even Parker's initially resistant wife (Allen, Pleasantville) becomes charmed by the puppy, and in short notice they become the owners of the puppy, which Parker named Hachi. As the months pass, the bond between master and animal becomes so strong that every day, Hachi follows Parker to the train station and subsequently waits the rest of the day for Parker to return. Then, one day, a tragedy strikes...

Based on what I have written above, you are probably thinking that you have seen elements of Hachi: A Dog's Tale in other movies before, such as with the Disney movie Greyfriars Bobby, another movie about the unbreakable loyalty of a dog with its human master. Perhaps you have, but like with that Disney movie, the people who made Hachi were basing their movie on a true story. Granted, the filmmakers did make a number of changes to the facts (which I will discuss later), but it still can be considered an original take on the formula of man and dog in several ways. For one thing, the filmmakers avoid a lot of the cliches familiar in dog movies. The first way is with the depiction of the intelligence of Hachi. As a puppy, when he is wandering around the station, he does so in an aimless fashion. This is not a supersmart dog like Lassie or Rin Tin Tin. Instead, its behavior comes across more like a real young dog, untrained yet full of energy and curiosity. Thankfully, when the puppy is brought home and starts wandering around, the filmmakers don't have it turn the home upside down when it pokes around room to room. The puppy does make a little mess and disruption, but it feels natural rather than heavy-handed slapstick right out of a Beethoven movie. When the dog gets older, it still behaves like an ordinary dog. Parker tries to train Hachi to "fetch", but finds that it takes a long, long, time before the dog actually picks up what its master is trying to teach it. Later, when Hachi encounters a skunk, its behavior towards it is a cross between curiosity and an instinct to get this strange animal off of the property. It feels natural.

While Hachi the dog may not be a genius, he has that quality that most dogs have, a quality that explains why there have been millions of dog owners for thousands of years and also makes the movie work as well as it does: the gift of unconditional love. When Hachi grows into an adult dog, he is unquestionably loyal to his owner. Hachi follows Parker everywhere, and freely shows affection to Parker from jumping on him to licking him on the face. Hachi's loyalty never breaks once during the years, shown by how patiently he waits for his master each day at the train station, day after day and year after year. Wouldn't you want to have a dog like that in your life? It's not only with Hachi that the movie has its winning theme of love and loyalty. The human characters in the movie show it off as well. Parker, of course, shows it with his character with his feelings to Hachi. When he first finds Hachi the puppy at the train station, you can tell right away that his heart instantly melts. His immediate thoughts of concern for the puppy and its well-being instantly make him a likable character, one we like even more as we watch him bond with Hachi over the years. But the movie also shows those themes of love and loyalty with the human-human relationships as well. The movie takes time to show us several moments when Parker and his wife express their love and devotion to each other. Later in the movie, their adult daughter gets married and eventually gets pregnant, a relationship and situation that brings joy to the entire family. Parker also repeatedly interacts with several specific people in town over the years, and his friendships with them give the movie additional warmth and charm.

The various human actors in the movie (including Jason Alexander of Seinfeld) are as top of their game as the dogs who play Hachi in various points of his life. One other pleasure many people who are parents will have with this movie is that it is rated "G". There is nothing in the movie that I think any normal person will find objectionable about the movie (though I'm sure that hard-lined Christian film analyzer at The Cap Movie Ministry would say something like, "The actors are naked under their clothes.") Well, actually I did have one problem with the movie, maybe something I'm overreacting to but somewhat disturbed by all the same. The one problem I had with the film happened when I got to the ending, where the movie reveals the story was based on fact. It reveals that the real-life events that the movie is based on actually took place in Japan in the 1920s. This fact made me think for a while, making me come up with a theory that I found disturbing. Did the producers of Hachi: A Dog's Tale think that setting the movie in Japan and involving Japanese characters would not be as marketable as how they actually set and cast the finished movie? Granted, the first minute of the movie (which reveals Hachi's origins) is set in Japan, the dog is of a Japanese breed, and one of the supporting characters of the movie is played by Japanese-born actor Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Bridge Of Dragons). Still, I couldn't help but wonder a little, enough that I was glad to not know the facts before watching the movie, because it might have somewhat spoiled the immense enjoyment I felt from the movie right before that ending.

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See also: The Golden Seal, Sherlock: Undercover Dog, White Wolves