Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, starring Richard Gere as Professor Parker Wilson, is a poignant retelling of a true story. Most everybody likes a good dog tale once in a while, but this one will grip your tear ducts and squeeze. It is a story of loss, and of a loyalty so deep it strains credibility. And yet, it actually happened beginning in 1925 at a train station in Japan.
The modern version, set in America rather than Japan – Rhode Island to be exact – is introduced via a young boy standing to speak in front of his classroom. The children have been assigned the topic of “Heroes”, and to tell the reasons for their choice of one. Ronnie has chosen his grandfather’s dog, “Hachi”, to the amusement of several classmates.
Professor Wilson (Richard Gere) and Hachi (who, according to Wikipedia, is played by three different Ataki to portray different periods of Hachi’s life.
His story begins with his grandfather, Parker Wilson, a college professor who walks to the train station daily for his commute to work. One evening the professor is accosted by a puppy who has escaped from a smashed shipping crate. The only identification on his collar is a symbol meaning “good fortune”, which is translated by Wilson’s friend Ken, a Japanese professor at the college, as “Hachiko” or “Hachi”, and that the little canine is from an ancient breed of dog called the Ataki.
We are then shown into the home and daily lives of Professor Wilson, his wife Cate (Joan Allen), and daughter Andy (Sara Roemer), as the puppy insinuates its way into a tenured position within the family circle. Usually this is the kiss of death for a movie if it is not done right, but believe me – we didn’t even think about pushing any buttons. We see the bouncy little puppy grow into a beautiful big dog who follows his master to the train station every morning, which is against all the rules.
But Hachi insists, and when he has gotten a certain bone between his teeth he doesn’t let go. It is part and parcel of his character. So he is allowed to walk with Wilson every morning to the station, and meet him every evening when he returns home. He and his master become such a neighborhood fixture that Hachi is pampered with treats from the vendors and shopkeepers about the station.
The movie draws us completely into the family and community spirit through the unique bonding of Professor Wilson and Hachi, who, like an eddy in a pond, pull all other characters into their orbit. I won’t give away the entire plot, though I had read the details of this story before and many of you probably have, also. The movie captures the story and makes of it a smooth transition that takes us, like the commuter train, upon an unparalleled journey, beginning with the discovery of love, and pulling us inexorably toward a destination of unswerving devotion and timeless loyalty.
A statue of Hachi stands today in the square outside the Shibuya train station in Japan, as a symbol of that perfect loyalty that reaches beyond life itself. Hachiko himself was present at the unveiling ceremony, and his unusual life is still celebrated each year on April 8, 77 years after his death.