HACHIKO - A Tale of Devotion & Loyalty
Cast: Richard Gere, Sarah Roemer, Joan Allen, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Jason Alexander, Erick Avari, Robert Capron, Davenia McFadden and Kevin DeCoste
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Script: Stephen P. Lindsay
Time: 92 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)
PREAMBLE: This 2009 movie is based on a true 1920s story about a faithful Japanese Akita dog called Hachi. Adapted from the 1987 Japanese film Hachiko Monogatari (directed by Seijiro Koyama), the action is transposed from Shibuya, Japan, to a small New England town in the 1990s.
Lasse Hallstrom's Hachiko is not as riotously funny or overly sentimental as Marley And Me but its tale of unflinching loyalty still tugs at the heart-strings, especially for dog-lovers. Today, a bronze statue of Hachi sits at his waiting spot outside the Shibuya station as a permanent reminder of his devotion and love.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT? It is 2007 and 11-year-old Ronnie (Kevin Decoste) walks up to the front of the class to talk about his hero - his grandfather's dog Hachi. He tells how his grandpa, Parker Wilson (Richard Gere, pictures) finds a lost puppy at the train station and had no choice but to take him home. Parker, a music professor, and his wife Cate (Joan Allen) hope that someone would claim the dog. However, Cate let her hubby keep Hachi (named after the Japanese figure 'eight' on its dog-tag) when she sees how attached he is to the dog.
And so the tale of Parker and Hachi continues, with the dog waiting for his master's return at the station every day. Hachi's loyalty and devotion soon become the talk of the (fictitious) town of Bedridge and he becomes a celebrity.
HITS & MISSES: The Akita breed, renowned for its regal and dignified demeanour, is a favourite of the Japanese royal house. It does not 'fetch' and Hallstrom makes this very clear to his audience. And of course, with the movie centred on the pooch, the canine stars steal the show. Hachi is played by a number of dogs (from Shiba Inu puppies of different sizes to three Akitas) and they are all highly expressive. Hallstrom also offers some scenes in black-and-white doggie vision - as the points-of-view of Hachi.
Still, with familiar faces like Jason Alexander (as the station's ticket agent) and Erick Avari as a hotdog vendor, Hachi gets solid support. Without the funny doggie capers, most kids in the audience may find Hachiko boring - but then the film is based on a real-life story about a no-nonsense pooch.
THE LOWDOWN: Hallstrom, who made My Life As A Dog in 1985, seems to have come full circle in this story about a real dog.