From what I hear and read, it appears people either love the movie Hachi: A Dog’s Tale or, well, hate it. I’ve surprised myself by falling in with the fans. First, it’s hard not to swoon over the beautiful dogs portraying Hachi through the years—with their profound eyes and noble carriage. But more than that, I was impressed by the simple story, the slow pace and an unexplained melancholy that hangs over the small Rhode Island town, even when times are good.
The film relocates the story of Hachiko, an Akita born in Odate, Japan, in 1923, to Rhode Island sometime close to today. The real Hachiko walked his human, a professor at Tokyo Univeristy, to and from the Shibuya train station every day for a couple years. One day, the professor died suddenly at the university and did not come home on the train. Hachi returned to the station and waited for the professor’s return every day for nine years. There is now a bronze statue at the station in his honor.
Knowing the story and that the film was heading for a Hallmark Channel premiere (Sunday, September 26), I worried it would be teeth-achingly saccharine. While I cry at the drop of the hat, I don’t enjoy being played, and I think director Lasse Hallström avoided that. Casting Joan Allen was probably one reason; she plays the professor’s wife/widow as a little hard and unsentimental. It also helps that the score features lots of piano that wanders rather than paces the story. Some of the train station folks—a bookseller, a food cart vendor, and Jason Alexander as the crusty stationmaster—are less convincing types.
Still, I happily bawled into my tissues watching scene after scene of Hachi waiting patiently through sun, wind, rains, snow and dark. When it was all over, I hugged my dogs and asked: “Would you wait nine years for me?” They held their tongues, but I figure I’d get a day, maybe two, tops.