Monday, November 7, 2011

Mini-Review: Lasse Hallstrom's "Hachi"...Stark, True Story of a Dog


Last week, I took a short break from the Internet, from e-mail (except at work), and the blog.  I needed to reconnect with the feeling of relaxation that "unplugging" often provides.  To "unplug" means there is no need to be "on" all the time, to think of new topics, to work and re-work a post (and writing, of any kind, of the serious kind, is hard work.) 

But there is a danger of becoming addicted to the calmness, like as to Vicodin, and the longer I stay away, the more ways I can "justify" not writing for just one more night....

I caught up on sleep.  My dislocated shoulder is healing.  I am fighting the beast of oncoming winter depression, especially now that family challenges and obligations are weighing more now, like the chill in the winter air.  In spite of this being  a personal Journal, I have chosen not to be open about some matters.  Maybe I can deal with them in my fiction.  Hang in there with me....

I have immersed myself in the movies, logging in a couple of mainstream titles as well as some obscure "festival fodder" which have increased my enthusiasm for moviegoing once again, whetted my appetite for it.

Soon I'll find the energy to roll out a whole new "volume" of film reviews, especially now that at least a dozen new releases show some artistic promise, and have me excited.

I was pushing myself to complete  reviews of two new movies I enjoyed, when this weekend I happened to surf on to a cable movie station....

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I had heard of "Hachi: A Dog's Tale" years ago, and remember being somewhat excited about its release.  Unfortunately it never saw a theatrical release here, and I lost track of it. 

The film, directed by the fine Lasse Hallstrom, is based on a true story from Japan in the early 1900's, and a 1987 Japanese film based on this story, about an Akita dog that was so devoted to its caregiver that it waited at the train station every afternoon at 5:00 for his return.  Hachi even showed up at the station, living on the kind handouts of the townspeople, for ten years after the man died. The story was updated and transported to modern-day New England for this version, but the mystical Far East connection remains.

This is a stark and simple film that is unlike most American movies about dogs and their masters, (other than it made me cry buckets).  It is a haunting tale of loyalty and loss that is profoundly, mysteriously moving precisely because there are no heartwarming resolutions or explanations.  Just as the dog could not quite comprehend the sudden and prolonged disappearance of his deceased master, so the film is scaled to the dog's uncomprehending perspective, and we long to provide impossible comfort to this incredibly loving creature.

I admired Hallstrom's underrated artistry with the camera, his shots from Hachi's point-of-view lightly desaturated, the angles subtle and blending seamlessly with the objective narrative.  The film moves quickly, which is fine, because it would be unbearably sad otherwise.

This is a work of poetry committed to film, in spite of the appearance of American actors not often associated with poetry.  And yet, Richard Gere (a co-producer) is perfect as a gentle family man, a Rhode Island musician and High School teacher, who loses his heart to a puppy found wandering the town's train station after its crate falls from a luggage cart.  Jason Alexander tones down the squinty mannerisms to portray a sympathetic station attendant. Joan Allen overcomes a hastily-written role as Gere's wife who objects to the puppy, at first.  Soon her heart is lost too.

It is in the final thirty minutes that the film works its haunting magic, almost without dialogue, and with the accompaniment of Jan A. J. Kaczmarek's lovely piano score. 

I object to Sony's decision to release the film straight to DVD in 2009 after a number of Film Festival dates.  But I understand it too. This movie would not appeal to hyperactive American audiences who prefer their dog-stories to have lots of slapstick and a happy ending. 

Those who have ever been loved by a dog will immediately warm to this movie.  One wants to believe each of us is worthy of the kind of unending devotion shown by Hachi in this film. 



  1. I am so glad you finally got a chance to catch up with this movie, I remember loving it and, like you, crying buckets in the last half hour.

    What makes Hachi so special is the way it depicts the kind of two-way relationship between a dog and it's master that only canines can develop, whilst the eccentricities of Hachi are just inside the limits of believable behaviour.

    Thank you for reminding me of this wonderful picture.

    (OH, and glad to hear your shoulder is recuperating.)

  2. Ben, thanks for the good wishes. The shoulder is coming along slowly.
    I actually remember your piece on this film a while ago, and thought of you as I reviewed it. I'm happy, too, that we now have this great film in common.