Sony // 2009 // 93 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // March 9th, 2010
A true story of faith, devotion and undying love!
Why do I have the feeling Hachi: A Dog's Tale would have been a sleeper hit over the Christmas holidays? It's directed by Lasse Hallsrom, whose films have traditionally been released on or around December 25th. And like the director's The Cider House Rules and Chocolat, it's a film rich in texture and beauty, never striving for over-the-top messages or mawkish sentimentality.
Music professor Parker Wilson (Richard Gere, Primal Fear) chances to meet a lost Akita dog at the local railway station. A bond is immediately forged, although it takes some time for Wilson's wife Cate (Joan Allen, The Bourne Ultimatum) to be won over by the strong friendship developing between dog and master. Every morning, Hachi goes to the train station with Wilson to see him off. In turn, Hachi waits patiently for Wilson to return and accompany him home every evening. When Wilson suffers a major stroke and dies, however, Hachi ends up waiting longer at the train station. Wilson's family attempts to adopt him, but Hachi ends up going back to the train station to patiently wait for his master day after day.
Hachi: A Dog's Tale is a rare breed, a Hollywood film that treats animals with the utmost respect. The usual manipulative tricks of making its animals act and think like human beings, as in so-called family movies like Air Bud: Golden Receiver, are not present here. In fact, this may be the only film about domesticated animals I've seen -- other than the 1963 version of The Incredible Journey -- which strictly adheres to authenticity and gentleness in presenting its subjects. The result is a heart-wrenching experience. I defy any dog-hater to not be moved by this story.
The film is a winner largely because of director Lasse Hallstrom's brevity. He eloquently tells this love story from the dog's point-of-view, appropriately using sepia tones to serve as Hachi's vision. This low-key maneuver allows us to be absorbed by Hachi's story and never fall victim to the syrupy clichés usually tainting the genre. The growing relationship between Parker and Hachi is given just the right amount of exposition for us to be emotionally involved. Thus, the second half, charting Hachi's daily return to the train station, is utterly disarming to watch, as all other story contrivances quickly become forgotten.
The strong star power on display seems a bit too much for such a little tale, but Gere and Allen contribute remarkable performances nonetheless. Gere worked with Hallstrom on The Hoax, and he's equally charming here, never coming off as wooden or unrealistic. Allen, as well, never misses a beat. Good supporting work, too, from Erick Avari (InAlienable) as a hot-dog vendor and Jason Alexander (reuniting with Gere almost 20 years after Pretty Woman), as the train conductor. And the dog, played by Forest, is a real scene-stealer.
Despite the denied theatrical release, Sony's treatment on DVD is more than palatable. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen print is clean, free of debris, and boasts excellent flesh tones. There's a small dash of grain from time to time, but nothing substantial. Filmed on-location in Rhode Island, environmental noise is natural and mixed well with the music and sound effects on the 5.1 Surround track. English and SDH subtitles are provided as well. The one extra is a solid one: a 17-minute making-of featurette with interviews from Hallstrom and his cast. The real-life Hachi is talked about in some detail, as is the actors' devotion to the material. Gere said he was crying like a baby after the first script reading, and it's easy to see why.
Please don't mistake Hachi: A Dog's Tale as a downer, even with all the expected heart-tugging. It's an inspirational movie deserving of a much wider audience, making it highly recommended by the court.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated G