“Hachi: A Dog´s Tale” is a movie that narrates the true story of a Japanese dog named “Hachiko”, who accompanied his owner, Professor Ueno, every day to the train station before he went to work teaching at the university; the dog was also there waiting at the station when the owner returned from work, and the two of them would then walk back home.
This routine was followed for two years, until one day the professor, unfortunately, doesn´t return, as he dies of a heart attack in the middle of a lesson. Hachiko, always faithful, waited for the return of his master at the station for nine years. To learn more about the true story of Hachiko, you can see the article I wrote about him: Hachiko, the dog who waited for nine years. I also wrote an article previously about the 1987 Japanese film based on the same story: “Hachiko Monogatari”.
In my opinion, this film is inferior to the Japanese version. When one talks about a script based on a true story (as is the case here), I think one should be as faithful as possible to reality, without distorting the facts. “Hachi: A Dog´s Tale” has a different stance, changing locations, times and even characters; some of the distortions that come to my mind are:
- The swift of stage into the United States, when in fact the events occurred in Japan.
- Hachiko was born in 1923 and died in 1935, while the film is set around 1997 until 2008.
- Hachiko was born on a farm and adopted when two months of life by Professor Ueno at the request of the farmers, while the film shows something completely different, with the teacher adopting Hachiko when finding him abandoned in the street.
- Ueno was a teacher at the Department of Agriculture in the University of Tokyo, while this character in the film teaches dance.
- A Japanese character is invented who supposedly was a friend of the teacher and practiced the sword with him. This man takes some relevance throughout the film, but the character never existed in real life.
- The character who works at the train station selling tickets, who knows Hachiko from the day he was adopted until the day of his death, is shown as a hypocritical person who takes advantage of the dog. As far as I know this didn´t happen in real life.
These distortions of reality subtract points to the film, and even more when considering Hachiko´s historical magnitude. We are talking about one of the most famous dogs in the world, having a train station named after him and who still today receives an annual ceremony in honor to his memory by the people of his city. For all this, I think the responsible stance is to adapt the play in the society and time he actually lived, while been as loyal as possible to the characters and events that occurred.
Tribute to Hachiko at Shibuya Train Station in Tokyo
Hachiko´s remains stuffed and mounted at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo
With all that said, the film is truthfully real regarding the center of the story: the relationship between Hachiko and Professor Ueno (in this case called Parker Wilson), and the subsequent nine years the dog waited for his owner after he never came back from work due to sudden death. In fact, although I personally prefer the Japanese version, I think the average viewer will enjoy more of this “made in Hollywood” version where he can see famous actors like Richard Gere (does he even need an introduction?), Joan Allen (Faceoff, Bourne saga) and Jason Alexander (Seinfeld). Because of this, the film does have a great virtue in itself: to get the story of Hachiko more known for Western populations in the world, who definitely have Hollywood as their cinema reference. The film had acceptable reception at the box office, grossing $46 million after an investment of 16, and winning the Best Film Award for 2010 at the Sedona Film Festival.
One thing that must be kept in mind is that one´s going to cry A LOT in the movie. In fact, it seems as if this was a goal set by the director, for which I strongly advise to carry a Kleenex in your pocket. And Richard Gere, with his usual good-natured face, is simply made for the role, which makes us feel more sorry for his character…
The affinity between Hachiko and him is in the air, which also makes it harder for the spectator to bear the fatal incident and the dog´s nostalgia. And speaking of the dog, I don´t know how the trainers did it, but the animal acts quite well, showing precise facial expressions for each scene, which is especially strong in the sad ones. To make things worst, the nostalgic instrumental music also gives more drama to the plot, helping the director in his search for tears…
In conclusion, I think this movie is good for disseminating Hachiko´s story to the world. If we agree this is its main mission, then applying the Hollywood´s formula to the life of this character is justified. The audience will enjoy the film and end up admiring this dog, probably looking for more information about him on the internet. In essence, the film was a safe bet: there´s no way one can remain cold after seeing what Hachiko does. And in that sense, “Hachi: A Dog´s Tale” achieves what we like so much about movies: making us feel new emotions that shake our hearts and leave a footprint, even if it comes from a dog: