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Hachiko: A Dog’s Tale

August 12th, 2009

Hachiko StatueToday was a big day in a small respect: Sachi and I went to see the movie Hachiko: A Dog’s Tale. Sachi is a huge Shiba Inu fan, and has made me more than just a passing fan as well–we look forward to moving into a place in the near future that allows dogs. While Hachi is an Akita, the Akita is close enough to a Shiba to make us happy, and besides, in the film, Hachi the puppy is played by a Shiba–and any Shiba puppy on film is a must-see for Sachi. (A book Sachi got on the movie claims that Shibas were used for the puppy scenes because the producers considered them easier to train.)

In Japan, most people know about Hachiko, especially in Tokyo; his statue is a popular meeting place in the Shibuya shopping area. The story of Hachiko is just as well known here in Japan. In this review, I assume that you know the basic story outline. Still, if you wish to avoid what you may consider a spoiler concerning a turning point in the story, then avoid reading after this paragraph, as I discuss a central plot point–but not one which really gives too much away, any more than it spoils the movie “Titanic” to know that at some point, they hit an iceberg. Still, I wanted to warn you just in case–someone who never heard of the Titanic before might enjoy the whole iceberg twist.

Hachiko GereThe story: a faithful dog comes to meet his master at the train station every evening upon his return home, and when the master, a college professor, dies at his school and does not return, Hachiko persists in coming to the station every day for nine years to wait for his master’s return. The very thought of such a loyal, sweet animal being so, well, doggedly committed to finding his master is bound to bring tears to most people’s eyes–and it didn’t fail here, with there being a considerable amount of sniffling and eye-dabbing in the theater. “Not a dry eye in the house” comes to mind. If you like schmaltzy tearjerkers and cute fuzzy dogs, then this is your kind of movie.

The basic story remains the same as the actual one, but builds up a new human drama around the dog story–which succeeds in not detracting from the central story at the same time. You never stray far from the dog, it’s clear that Hachi is the protagonist and we never spend more than two or three minutes away from him at any one time. Nevertheless, the characters are fairly well developed for what they are–supporting roles. Joan Allen does a good job as the wife reluctant to allow another dog in the family after the last one left them. Jason Alexander has a bit of fun as the self-centered station manager, and recognizable character actor Erick Avari does an excellent job as a hot dog and coffee vendor outside the station. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa did surprisingly well as the Japanese expert at the college. But the dog is the star, and does a good job of keeping our attention.

I contrast this with a movie from last year in Japan, “The Tale of Mari & 3 Puppies,” about a Shiba Inu dog owned by a family in Niigata when a large earthquake hits the region. The movie, billed primarily as a dog movie, mostly focused on the family, featured more than a little over-acting from the supporting cast, and failed to show us the cute doggies so much. In “Hachi,” it’s the reverse–you get lots of dog time, but also a nicely-rounded drama with good acting all around.

A few things were overdone, but not to bad effect. At the movie’s outset, we see Hachi as having been sent, unattended in a bamboo cage, all the way from Japan–not just Japan, but from a Buddhist temple in Japan–only to be lost on the last leg of his journey when he falls off of a handcart at Gere’s train station. That (a) the person pulling the cart could be so careless and (b) that whatever local person paid so much money to have the dog shipped and then never inquire as to what happened to him, well, is kind of pushing it. It feels as if Gere wanted to put in a nice Buddhist reference and have Hachiko’s tale be a bit more dramatic. You kind of roll your eyes at all this, but it doesn’t get in the way of the story too much. None of the overdone bits go so far as to really distract from the movie, and they do work well at the emotional level. In the end, what you have is a fun little drama about an adorable, faithful dog with a tearful ending; the movie does very well being what it is supposed to be.

The original story of Hachiko is not completely without controversy. There are some who claim that the story was deliberately popularized in fascist pre-war Japan as a means of inculcating loyalty to the emperor and to the state–the idea being that Hachiko’s utter faithfulness up to the bitter end was a model that the government wanted the people to follow in supporting the state. Of course, Gere’s film does not come close to this; there is even a specific reference to loyalty as pertaining to those one loves. One would hardly expect Gere, a strong Tibet supporter, to allow the story to be about loyalty to oppressive governments. Other Hachiko-doubters contend that Hachiko was not being faithful to his owner, but was just a stray dog that came to Shibuya Station for the food scraps fed to him by the merchants, and that Hachiko’s story was built up as more of a publicity device to attract customers to the area.

Whatever the case, the story persists, and as a story, it’s a good one. If you watch Hachi, be prepared with a good supply of hankies.

The actual Hachiko.

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  1. August 12th, 2009 at 18:19 | #1

    They are only showing it in Japanese here where I live and I can’t understand enough Japanese to make it worth my while.

    When I tell my students that Scotland has a similar story, Greyfriar’s Bobby they are extremely surprised.

  2. gemma
    March 8th, 2010 at 05:10 | #2

    do you like to call Shiba Inu’s Akita or Japanese splits?
    I like them too but there isn’t that many here where i live

  3. Luis
    March 8th, 2010 at 13:32 | #3


    Shiba Inus and Akitas are separate breeds. Even the Akita people are not sure whether they should split between Japanese Akita and non-Japanese; there is no such ambiguity between Shibas and Akitas. There’s no confusing the two breeds–you can tell them apart very easily, both as pups and adults. They chose a Shiba to play the young Hachiko for reasons of behavior and convenience–though the appearance of a young Shiba (as opposed to stout Akita pups) may have been a factor as well.

  4. March 22nd, 2010 at 06:51 | #4

    sachi was a good dog i just saw the movie 5 minutes ago.sachi is a wonderful dog!!!!!!!he is my hero!!!!!

  5. kyler1213
    March 31st, 2010 at 13:33 | #5

    your sooooo right when you say it will bring tears it sure did for me.

  6. February 5th, 2011 at 04:15 | #6

    i love hachi youre so specil if your alive i love you i wish you was my dog i hoppe you havent past away

  7. February 5th, 2011 at 04:19 | #7

    i love hachi youre so specil if your alive i love you i wish you was my dog i hoppe you havent past away you know the film put tears in youre eyes i love you hachi i do i do i do loadshope youre alive and you was my dog

    lots of love and kiss love zoe

  8. February 5th, 2011 at 04:20 | #8

    i really love you hachi

  9. February 5th, 2011 at 04:21 | #9

    i love hachi

  10. February 5th, 2011 at 04:28 | #10

    hachi im in tears her i love you loadse hope you havent pased away love zoe

  11. Annie
    May 23rd, 2011 at 11:44 | #11

    We watched this movie on OWN today. Wonderful story, brought my dear husband to tears~first time in 33 years that I have seen that! I would recommend it to friends.

  12. Luis
    May 23rd, 2011 at 13:53 | #12

    Yep, the movie is a tear-jerker, all right.

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