Thursday, 22 April 2010

Hachi: A Dog's Story

2009. Dir: Lasse Hallström. Starring: Richard Gere, Sarah Roemer, Joan Allen, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and Jason Alexander. ●●●●○



It's no secret that I like the simple things in life. I have lost count of the number of times I have said in reviews that a simple story well told can reach the highest level of film-making. So it was with great delight that I watched Hachi: A Dog's Story, a simple dog's story.

Based on a true story, only transplanted to a more sellable US setting, the film explores the fundamental relationship between one man and his dog as Music Professor Richard Gere adopts an Akita puppy he finds at the local train station. Through each other they learn what a true friend is. Spoilers follow after the jump.



We are treated to watching the two of them bond for an hour, Gere trying to teach Hachi (Japanese word for 8) how to fetch, Hachi's insistence on following his master to the town station; this is especially important as Hachi develops a routine whereby he follows his master every morning, then returns at 5 to pick him up. They share moments of elation, comfort and misery. As a previous dog owner myself I fully appreciate falling asleep on the couch with dogs on your lap and being told they we must all stay there because something has been chewed.

Then, suddenly, Hachi won't follow his pack leader and in a bizarre twist of behaviour takes Gere his ball. Everything that sets Hachi apart from other dogs is turned on it's head. There's even a burst of aggresive barking. We are lead to believe that Hachi is exhibiting his dissatisfaction at being treated lower on th social strata within the pack - Gere's daughter had annouced her pregnancy and he had also spent more time with his testy wife (Joan Allen giving a flawlessly underplayed performance - nicely tipping the audience off to the history of the family and their relationships).

The behavioural differences turn out to be more complex when out of the blue Gere collapses in his lecture hall, breathing his last and letting the ball Hachi had passed to him roll out of shot. The dog then mounts a vigil, returning to the train station each night to wait for his former master who will never return.

The story is mawkish, sentimental and signposts all the plot developments early on. Nevertheless it can be forgiven these flaws for the simple reason that it works. That sense of loneliness and loyalty the film evokes in it's third act is so profound that there literally wasn't a dry eye in the house (I personally wept like a baby).

I will critisize the bookending (why do they do it?) as Gere's grandson - who you will remember never met his grandfather - relates the story to his class. This is certainly a step too close to bathos and the grotesque image of pre-pubescent schoolchildren pretending to cry nearly killed off the emotions felt in the rest of the film.

The performances were serviceable throughout with the notable stand-out of the dog's playing Hachi. The pup wo played him in the early scenes particurlarly displayed a shocking range, along with serious come-to-bed eyes.

The dog vision segments were inventive using a bleached black and white footage and muffled soundtrack, but needed more of them to fully appreciate how they worked to establish the relationships, especially as the film focussed well on the co-dependence of the relationship. Well done to d.p. Ron Fortunato (Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Catch a Fire).

Lasse Hallström did a fine anonymous job in the directors chair, it's may not be up there with his Swedish output but he crafted a better movie than he's made for a long time.

Overall Hachi was a fine example of what every dog-based film should be. An uplifting portrayal of that very special relationship between a man and his best friend.

3 comments:

TomS said...

Ben, I remember hearing about this first on a previous post of yours. While browsing the local bookstore, I noticed it is already on DVD--to my knowledge it never played in theaters here.
I must check it out. I, too, love dog stories, as you know.
Thanks for your review!
Tom

Alex in Movieland said...

I thought the trailer was as cheesy as it gets. :) so this one's not for me.

Runs Like A Gay said...

Tom,

I'm pretty sure it only managed direct to DVD over there (I've no idea why) but it's still worth picking up.

Alex,

It is cheesy, and hyper-emotional, and simplistic. But that doesn't stop it from being absolutley lovely.