Rating: 3 out of 5
Movies with kids and animals are often not good ideas, from a filmmaking point of view.
Both types of 'actors' can be really unpredictable, which can raise the heart pressure of the film crew when take after take is required to shoot scenes for a movie.
For all the effort that is required, perhaps this American retelling of the beloved Japanese tale of Hachiko was worth the imagined aggravation on set.
Because of its Eastern roots, and the assured handling of Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom, who incidentally made a touching coming-of-age story called My Life as a Dog in 1985, this film doesn't have Hollywood sensibilities.
It is certainly deeply romantic in its view of a lovable and loyal Akita dog, Hachiko, and its relationship with its owner Parker, a composer played by Richard Gere.
It very nearly lurches into melodrama – in fact, it teeters on the edge – but for the most part, the film is a sweet look at a dog's life, how a fortuitous turn of events brought it together with Parker – initially a reluctant owner – and how they developed a special connection that lasts beyond the man's death.
It is human nature to try to explain things in human terms, and when we see Hachiko becoming inseparable from Parker, cheekily tailing him from home to train station, and later returning to the station every evening to await his return, we ascribe human qualities to him.
We surmise that Hachiko, also called Hachi, is loyal and loving. When Parker collapses suddenly at work one day, and does not return by train, Hachi returns to the station time and again, practically everyday for ten years, hoping to greet his owner again.
It is emotional stuff, based on true events from 1920s and 1930s Japan, where an Akita dog really did wait for his late owner, not knowing his fate.
Whoever trained the dog who played Hachiko in Hallstrom's film did a marvellous job. Through the actions and 'expressions' of this gentle creature, it is wholly believable that it could feel emotions akin to those familiar to humans: joy, admiration, mischief, sadness, pride and even love.
Among the human actors, Gere and Joan Allen, as Parker's wife, do a fine job. Through her, and Hachiko, and the direction of Hallstrom, a deep sense of loss is palpable in the latter half of the film.
For dog lovers, the film should confirm all their suspicions. Dogs are indeed man's best friend, and they are capable of feeling love and loss. For cynics, perhaps this is another case of anthropomorphism, humans foolishly, and pridefully, seeing human qualities in a simple dog.
Whatever one believes, the film manages to effectively convey how people – and one gifted dog – deal with grief, and how the cycle of life is observed by all creatures big and small.
It is a comforting thought, in a way, that we are not alone in our sorrows, and what we call 'humanity' can exist behind the eyes of a family pet.
It is just as fulfilling to know, or believe, hope upon hope, that one can strike up a deep, meaningful relationship with a dog, and have that love reciprocated.
About Yong Shu Chiang
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.
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