Film Review: Hachiko: A Dog's Story

by Celeste Heiter, May 19, 2010 | Destinations: Japan
Hachiko: A Dog's Story

Hachiko: A Dog's Story

Hachiko: A Dog's Story

Based on the true story of a loyal dog who stole the hearts of an entire nation, Hachiko: A Dog's Story is the Americanized version of an endearing Japanese legend. Born in the northern province of Akita, Chu-ken Hachiko, which means "loyal little dog Hachi," arrived in Tokyo in 1924 with his master, Professor Eisaburo Ueno, who had taken a position at the Imperial University. Still just a pup, Hachiko accompanied his master to Shibuya Station each morning, where the professor boarded the train that would take him to the university. Each afternoon at three p.m., Professor Ueno would find Hachiko in the same spot at Shibuya Station, anxiously awaiting his return.

Pup and professor continued their daily routine for more than a year, but on May 21, 1925, Hachiko saw his master off at the station for the last time. That fateful day, Professor Ueno suffered a fatal stroke at the university, and never returned home. Nevertheless, Hachiko continued to wait in vain that day, and every day thereafter, for nearly ten years.

Throughout the years, as Hachiko kept his vigil for his beloved master, Professor Ueno's gardener and the Shibuya Station captain fed and cared for him. The story of the loyal little dog spread across Japan, and people began coming from far and wide just to see him and to pat his head for luck. Finally, on March 7, 1934, Hachiko died in the very same spot where he'd spent nearly ten years, patiently waiting for one who never returned.

Hachiko: A Dog's Story is directed by Lasse Hallström, who is known for such small but significant films as Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, and The Shipping News. Richard Gere stars as Professor Parker Wilson, an American counterpart to Professor Ueno, with Joan Allen in the role of his wife Cate. But their downplayed relationship takes a back seat to Parker's devotion to his beloved dog. Heartfelt performances by Jason Alexander as Carl, the Bedridge stationmaster, and Erick Avari as Jasjeet, the hot dog vendor, add an extra element of pathos.

Although the story is set in the northeastern U.S., production design by Chad Detwiller, art direction by Jordan Jacobs, and set decoration by Gretchen Schlottman have masterfully created the sense and feel of old Japan with western-style architecture. And Bedridge station is a remarkably detailed rendition of the site outside Tokyo's Shibuya Station where Hachiko awaited his master each day. And although this interpretation of takes significant liberties with the facts, it never loses focus on Hachiko's story and his preternatural loyalty to his master. In its own way, Hachiko: A Dog's Story is as sweet and endearing as the real thing.