Every few months, you hear about a movie that somehow fell through the cracks, a worthwhile film that never got the attention — or the audience — it deserved.
Generally, it’s a project that didn’t have major stars or a big-name director. But what happened in the case of “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale,” which features Richard Gere, Joan Allen and Jason Alexander and was directed by Lasse Hallstrom (“Dear John,” “My Life as a Dog”)? Although it grossed $45 million overseas, it never got a major theatrical release in the United States — rather shocking considering both the caliber of the talent involved and the quality of the film itself. The East Lansing Film Society will do its part to give “Hachi” some local exposure with screenings today and Thursday at East Lansing’s Hannah Community Center.
A first-rate piece of family entertainment, “Hachi” — also known as “Hachiko: A Dog’s Story” — transplants a true story from 1920s Japan to 1990s Rhode Island. (A Japanese version of the drama, “Hachiko Monogatari,” was released in 1987.)
Gere plays Parker Wilson, a music professor who finds a lost Akita puppy at the train station on his way back from school. His wife, Cate (Allen), is not much of an animal lover: When Parker tries to tell her that the Akitas are regarded as “dog royalty,” Cate asks, “Did you find a home for this royal dog yet?” Cate eventually backs down when she realizes Parker and the dog — whose tag identifies him as Hachiko — have bonded. “Hachi” makes a persuasive argument that a pet can revitalize a man’s stagnant spirit, as Parker becomes more playful and affectionate with Hachi in his life. It’s a telling sign that in Japanese the word hachi signifies the number 8; to the Japanese, it is a number of good fortune.
Hallstrom shows Hachi’s adjustment to his new home in several sequences shot from the puppy’s eye level, complete with muted colors to simulate how dogs perceive the world. But the movie also makes time for Cate and Parker, a couple that may have grown apart in the time leading up to Hachi’s arrival. Their daughter, Andy (Sarah Roemer), is about to be married, setting the stage for a textbook case of the dreaded “empty nest syndrome.” Having Hachi around eases Parker and Cate’s transition into this new chapter in their lives, and they begin to develop a new appreciation for each other; discovering this dog helps them rediscover their relationship, an idea Gere and Allen communicate wonderfully well in their scenes together.
Utterly charming and often funny — and far superior to the screen adaptation of “Marley and Me,” which covered similar ground — “Hachi” is also a potent tearjerker. Although the movie can’t help being somewhat sentimental, Hallstrom handles the material with the same straightforward approach he’s brought to his unconventional romantic comedydramas,
such as the underrated Richard Dreyfuss/Holly Hunter film “Once Around” and Julia Roberts’ 1995 hit “Something to Talk About.”
The movie could easily have degenerated into a cloying weepie if it weren’t for the honesty of the performances and the skill of its director. Instead, “Hachi” becomes a sincerely touching fable about devotion and loyalty, between a husband and wife and between a man and his dog.
For reviews see Cole Smithey´s Movie Week at www.lansingcitypulse.com/movies
‘Hachi: A dog’s Tale’
Presented by East Lansing Film Society Screening at 3 and 7 p.m.
and Thursday, Aug. 12 Hannah Community Center 819 Abbot Road, East
Lansing $7 adults, $5 seniors, $3 children (under 12) and students