“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).    

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