“Hachi: A Dog's Tale” - Lasse Hallström (2009)

Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2009) is a film about a dog and its close bond to its master, and it is based on a true story.  The original dog, Hachiko, lived in Japan from 1923 to 1935, and it became nationally famous there for its extraordinary loyalty to its master, even after the master had died [1].  The story of Hachiko’s life was subsequently made into a popular Japanese film, Hachiko Monogatari (1987) by Kaneto Shindô, and the present film that is under discussion, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, is an Americanized retelling of this same story.  The account told in this film, which was well-received on its release in 2009 [2,3], concerns a lost puppy dog that is found and adopted by a kindly man and the ensuing loving relationship that develops between the two.

This film was directed by Lasse Hallström and scripted by Stephen P. Lindsey, with cinematography Ron Fortunato, film editing by Kristina Boden, and music by Jan A. P. Kaczmarek.  The film’s producer, who also had the lead human acting role in the film, was Richard Gere.  Gere has had a long personal involvement in Buddhism and general spiritual matters, and I believe in this connection that this background helped fuel his engagement in the telling of such a story that transcends ordinary materialistic and utilitarian considerations.  

On the production side of things, it is interesting to note that Hallström adopted the somewhat unusual narrative style of attempting to present part of this tale visually from the dog’s perspective, and this is not so easy to do in film form.  Presenting an animal’s perspective is probably more easily accomplished via textual presentation (think of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild (1903)), whereas a film presentation in this manner needs to show visually what the dog is seeing and experiencing, rather than just describe it in words.  Hallström chose to do this by showing, in an otherwise color-film, Hachiko’s point-of-view shots in black-and-white.  Now it is known that the color spectrum for dogs is somewhat different than that for humans, but dogs can see colors [4].  So the black-and-white POV shots are misleading and just something of a distraction for the viewer.  These shots don’t really invoke the viewer’s empathy, as far as I can see.

The story of the film is encased as a long flashback, and the film opens in Rhode Island with a grade-school boy Ronnie (played by Kevin DeCoste) telling his classroom about his ultimate hero – his grandfather’s dog named “Hachiko”.  Then we move into the proper flashback, beginning more than a decade earlier when Ronnie’s grandfather, Professor Parker Wilson (Richard Gere), was returning from a trip and encountered a wandering puppy dog in the train station.

Parker soon discovers that the puppy is a Japanese Akita breed and was sent from Japan to Rhode Island, but its damaged cage’s destination tag has been partially torn off and lost, so its rightful owner is unknown.  All he can guess is that the dog’s name is “Hachiko” (or “Hachi”, for short).  Not wanting to leave the dog at the local dog pound, where it will face likely extermination, Parker takes it home and continues his search for the rightful owner or, failing that, a willing adopter.

But Parker’s efforts to find a proper owner prove unsuccessful, and his wife Cate (Joan Allen), seeing how much her husband likes the little dog, reluctantly agrees that they can add a new member to their household.  
Parker soon enthusiastically gets down on all fours in an effort to show his new pet, Hachi, how to fetch, but he gets nowhere in his efforts.  Later, Ken (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), a Japanese colleague at Parker’s college, tells him all about Akita dogs and that they can’t be taught to fetch.  I don’t believe it.  As a dog-lover, myself, I think any dog can be taught to fetch if one follows the right procedure [5].  This is something that Parker clearly doesn’t do properly in this film.

Anyway, time passes, and the next time we see Hachi, he has grown up to be an adult dog.  But  he and Parker are still affectionate companions.  Parker commutes to work by train, and every day he walks to the train station in the morning.  One day though, Hachi, not wanting to be without his master, follows Parker on his walk to the station.  Hachi is duly escorted home and confined in his yard, but he soon manages to escape and return to the train station, where he waits outside all day for Parker’s return at 5pm.  Parker tries to stifle this behavior, but he eventually gives in to Hachi’s determined loyalty.  It then becomes a regular practice for Hachi to walk with Parker every day to the station in the morning and then wait loyally outside for Parker’s return at 5pm.  

There are further colorful depictions of life in the Wilson household, including Hachi’s enthusiastic participation.  On one occasion, Hachi and Parker have a rude encounter with a wild skunk, and they both get “skunked” as a result.  We then see both Parker and Hachi together in the bathtub trying to cleanse themselves from the stink.  

One morning Hachi brings his rubber ball with him to the station and shows Parker that he knows how to fetch.  That same day, Parker dies of a stroke while lecturing to his class.  Hachi waits faithfully at the station all day and night for his beloved master, who is now gone forever.

After Parker’s funeral, Cate moves out of the family house, and Hachi is adopted by their  married daughter Andy (Sarah Roemer) and her husband Michael (Robbie Sublett), who take the dog to their house.  Hachi’s new home is not so close to the train station, but he still manages to escape from the yard and intelligently follow the train tracks to his familiar train station.  There Hachi assumes his usual position in front of the station to wait for Parker’s return.

Although Andy and Michael find Hachi there and bring him back to their home, Andy eventually recognizes Hachi’s fervent passion for his master, and she lets the dog out so he can rush back to the station.  From this point on, Hachi lives at the train station, sleeping under a boxcar on a rail siding and waiting all day for Parker outside the station.  Hachi gets food every day from the local train station master (Jason Alexander), a fast-food street vendor (Erick Avari), a local butcher, and others, so he is able to maintain his daily vigil indefinitely.

Eventually, Hachi’s faithful waiting for his master becomes famous, especially after a newspaper article is written about the dog.  The years go by, and Hachi becomes an old dog, but still he waits for Parker every day outside the train station.  About a decade after Parker’s death, Hachi has a vision of Parker returning to greet him, and the faithful canine passes away.

So ends Ronnie’s film-length saga about his hero, the loyal Hachi.  If you’re not into dogs, this tale might not offer much to you; but if you are a dog-lover, you are likely to have an appreciation for the almost ethereal devotion that dogs can have for their human masters.  Dogs are often more than just loving; they sometimes seem often to devote their very lives to their masters, whom they almost revere as gods.  For them, their love can be more important than life itself.  

And that is the point of this film.  Animals are typically characterized as just wild, ruthless beasts, and yet, in stark contrast to such an image, a dog can manifest a love so deep that it can serve as a model for all of us humans. This extraordinary feature of dogs has long been recognized.  Consider 13th-century Persian poet Jelaluddin Rumi’s poem “Love Dogs” (also quoted in Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat’s review of this film [2]), which pays tribute to the limitless love that a dog can feel [6]:

“Love Dogs” by Jelaluddin Rumi (translation by Coleman Barks)

        One night a man was crying Allah! Allah!
        His lips grew sweet with praising,
        until a cynic said, “So!
        I’ve heard you calling our, but have you ever
        gotten any response?”
        The man had no answer to that.
        He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
        He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
        in a thick, green foliage.
        “Why did you stop praising?” “Because
        I’ve never heard anything back.”
        “This longing you express
        is the return message.”
        The grief you cry out from
        draws you toward union.
        Your pure sadness
        that wants help
        is the secret cup.
        Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
        That whining is the connection.
        There are love dogs
        no one knows the names of.
        Give your life
        to be one of them.

If you see Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, you will probably be moved to recollect your own experiences with a loving dog.


  1. “Hachiko”, Wikipedia, (11 December 2020).   
  2. Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, “Hachi: A Dog's Tale”, Spirituality & Practice, (n.d.). 
  3. Stefan S, “Hachiko: A Dog's Story”, (A Nutshell) Review, (24 January 2010).  
  4. Harriet Meyers, “Are Dogs Color Blind? Side-by-Side Views”, American Kennel Club, (29 August 2019).   
  5. Sassafras Lowrey, “How to Teach Your Dog to Fetch”, American Kennel Club, (11 August 2020).   
  6. Sunada Takagi, “‘Love Dogs’ by Rumi”, Mindful Purpose Coaching, (7 March 2011).    

“Frankenstein” - James Whale (1931)

Film genres often have classic works that serve as exemplars of the class.  Perhaps the epitome of works of this nature is Frankenstein (1931), the classic exemplar of the horror film genre.  There have been other, subsequent films that may have been better, but Frankenstein definitely set the standard and still stands as the classic horror film.  It tells the story of a scientist who constructs out of constituent parts a living, autonomous being in human form.  Unfortunately, this creation turns out to be a monster.  

The story of this monster is loosely based on Mary Shelley's famous novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818), the 1927 stage-play adaptation of which by Peggy Webling served as a more explicit precursor for the film.  When the film Frankenstein was produced in 1931, Universal Studios had already profited from their release of Dracula (1931) earlier in the year, and they were bent on producing more horror films to excite the movie-going public.  They had pretty much free rein at that time, because the Hays Code, which served to restrict the film industry’s licence to shock the viewer, was not imposed until 1934.  What they produced on this occasion was something of a masterpiece, and it was an immediate hit [1,2].  

The film was directed by James Whale, who was a craftsman in expressionistic mise en scene.  And the film’s cinematography was by Arthur Edeson, whose high- and low-angle camera shots, as well as some then-uncommon (in the early sound era) moving-camera shots, added to the moodiness of the proceedings.  I also found Bernhard Kaun’s music to be a useful contribution.  These elements, despite some overacting and some occasional jump-cuts, worked together to produce a truly involving work of expressionistic cinema.   

But an overall key to this presentation is the continued back-and-forth movement of narrative tone between the normal (signified by ‘N’) and the dark (‘D’).  The normal is the everyday world and is here characterized by light surroundings and ordinary, reasonable, warm-hearted people.  The dark scenes depict the threatening unknown and a depicted in shadows, or at night, or during thunderstorms.  It is this alternating shift between N and D in the film that offers a compelling narrative rhythm and keeps the viewer unconsciously ensnared in the story [3,4].  As Variety reviewer Alfred Greason remarked [2],

“. . . the feeling of horror is not once let go past the point at which it inspires disbelief, where out of excess it would create a feeling of makebelieve.”
The story begins on a dark evening somewhere in Bavaria showing scientist Henry Frankenstein (played by Colin Clive) and his weird hunchbacked assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye) secretly watching a funeral burial (D).  We soon learn that they are engaged in stealing freshly buried corpses from which Henry can harvest body parts that he can use in his secret scientific project – to construct an artificial ‘person’ from body parts and make it come to life.  

But there is one body component that they still haven’s found in a suitable state of freshness – a human brain.  So Fritz is tasked with going to the class (N) of Henry’s old medical college mentor, Dr. Waldman (Edward Van Sloan), and stealing a preserved brain.  This assignment Fritz sets out to accomplish, but he bumbles and steals a former criminal’s brain instead of a normal brain (D).

The scene now shifts to one (N) showing Henry’s fiancé, Elizabeth (Mae Clarke), and their mutual friend Victor Moritz (John Boles), worrying about Henry’s seclusion in a dark laboratory where he is allegedly conducting his scientific experiments.  

Then it shifts to a scene showing Henry and Fritz working in Henry’s laboratory in an abandoned watchtower (D).  They are waiting for a coming electrical storm, a lightening strike from which can be used to bring Henry’s fabricated body (which I will refer to as “the Monster”) to life.  However, just when the thunderstorm hits, Elizabeth, Victor, and Dr. Waldman show up at the watchtower laboratory and express their concerns over Henry’s sanity.  So to show off his genius, Henry invites them to witness his electrical vitalization effort.  In a memorable scene, we see that after the lightening bolt hits the apparatus, the attached and prone Monster twitches, and Henry exults in triumph, shouting out, “it’s alive!”.  Now he knows what it feels like to be God, he tells them all.

Elizabeth and Victor return to town, where in a brief interlude (N) they are shown chatting with Henry’s pompous father, Baron Frankenstein (Frederick Kerr).  Meanwhile Dr. Waldman stays with Henry, and they talk about the experiments.  Only at this point, almost halfway through the film, do we finally see the Monster (played by Boris Karloff) upright and walking (D).  Although the Monster has disturbingly exaggerated features, there is an air of innocence about him – almost like a curious animal.  When he sees sunlight for the first time, he reaches up for it, almost as if to embrace it.

However, the Monster becomes hysterically frightened by Fritz’s lighted torch, and they have to lock the Monster in the basement.  Fritz, though, enjoys tormenting the Monster with his torch, so he lingers alone in the basement to continue torturing him.  The Monster, however, soon kills Fritz, off-camera, and when Henry and Dr. Waldman discover this, Henry reluctantly agrees that the Monster must be exterminated.  So they engage in an exhausting physical struggle with the Monster, during which Waldman manages to inject the Monster with a powerful serum that puts him to sleep.

Henry is so exhausted from the struggle with the Monster that he collapses, and Elizabeth and Baron Frankenstein come to take him home (N).  Waldman assures Henry that he will finish exterminating the Monster, himself.  However, after Henry departs and Dr. Waldman is engaged in the final act of extermination, the Monster wakes up and kills Waldman.  Then the Monster wanders outside in the countryside.  Now with the recuperating Henry and Elizabeth at home planning for their upcoming marriage, which is to take place immediately (N), the Monster is outside and dangerous (D).

The Monster comes across a young girl who is playing alone by her father’s lakeside cottage, and soon the two of them become innocently engaged in a game of tossing daisy blossoms into the water and watching them float.  When the beguiled Monster tosses the little girl into the water to see if she will float, too, she drowns immediately; and he runs off in horror.  
Meanwhile at the Frankenstein mansion, the wedding is about to commence (N) when Victor rushes in and reports that the Monster has killed Dr. Waldman and is now on the loose and dangerous.  Then the Monster does show up and sneak into the mansion and into Elizabeth’s room, where he threatens her (D).  But her screams cause him to run away without being caught.

The stage is now set for the final sequences.  The whole village is riled up with vengeful anger over the murder of the little girl, and, armed with torches, they are organized into squads to search everywhere for the Monster.  Eventually, the Monster is found in the middle of the night and followed to an abandoned mill where the dramatic finale takes place.  

There are two aspects to Frankenstein that make the film extraordinarily gripping.  One, as I have already mentioned, is the relentless back-and-forth movement between the normal (N) and the dark (D) aspects of the story.  The other interesting aspect of the film concerns the characterization of the Monster portrayed by Boris Karloff.  Although the monster cannot communicate in spoken language, the viewer can empathize with and guess what the Monster might be thinking along much of the way.  Indeed, the Monster is like an animal, and just as we  might sometimes imagine what a dog may be thinking, so, too, we might have a similar feeling about what the Monster might be thinking and feeling.  Thus the Monster is not some diabolical incarnation of evil, but is instead more innocent, like a wild beast.  In fact, the Monster seems more innocent, and perhaps even more humane, than Henry’s assistant, Fritz.

So as the film winds down, the viewer’s complex involvement in the narrative is likely to draw him or her more concernedly into what transpires onscreen.  And this is what makes Frankenstein a memorable work.

  1. Mordaunt Hall, “A Man-Made Monster in Grand Guignol Film Story”, The New York Times, (5 December 1931).   
  2. Alfred Rushford Greason, "Frankenstein", Variety, (8 December 1931).   
  3. James Berardinelli, “Frankenstein (United States, 1931)”, Reelviews, (n.d.).   
  4. Damian Arlyn, “It's Still Alive”, Edward Copeland’s Tangents, (21 November 2011).    

James Whale

Films of James Whale: