I came to know of the Hachiko story from one of the film screenings during the Japanese Film Festival more than two years ago, and having visited Tokyo, who would not have heard and noticed that one of the exits of the busy Shibuya station had one exit named after the famous dog? Why an American version of the story would be made baffles me, if not only to tell of yet another dog story following the likes of the Lassies and the Marleys that because dog is Man's best friend there will always be a ready market for it?
Directed by Swede Lasse Hallstrom, at least there's the sensibility to still ensure that Hachiko remains Japanese, only for it to be accidentally transported from a Japanese monastery, and thanks to a botch up in cargo handling, Hachiko the puppy's destination ended up to be an American town with the Bedridge train station, where his first night wandering around the station's platform brought him to encounter Professor Parker Wilson, played by Richard Gere. Taking pity on the puppy whom he thought was abandoned, Parker brought it home to the opposition of his wife (Joan Allen), but who can deny a homeless dog especially one that looks as cute as a button?
The gist of the story you would already know from the trailer which decided to tell all. The film curiously didn't spend too much time with Hachiko as a puppy, and decided to fast forward to when it became an adult dog, starting to walk with Parker to the station, and at 5pm every work day, promptly made its way back to the station to wait for its master, and then walking back. The Japanese version did this very well with people interaction along the way, which this version decided to erroneously gloss over. It's not about just the Professor and his dog, but the community around in which the dog's loyalty, faithfulness and street-smartness touched. Sure there was some attempts at that in this version, but there was too little and probably wanted to approach the story in a different direction.
Unfortunately it got a little carried away, and after the pivotal turning point, it somehow went downhill with the narrative being dragged out because here's exactly when the relationship between community and the dog would have taken over to move this to another emotional plane, and didn't because the foundations were not established, granted though there were enough moments and scenes to tug at your heartstrings.
One cannot deny that the Akita breeds are cute, and many would have missed the disclaimer toward the end of the credits that the dogs are for experienced dog owners, so don't you be heading toward the pet store to get one puppy on a whim, as the worst thing that shouldn't happen, is an abandonment because fancy has worn off, and would have been very contradictory to the message preached in the film.
Between the American update and the original Japanese film, no prizes for guessing that I much prefer the latter for the simple reason that it had more genuine emotions with a better focus on Hachiko, and the locale which the American “Hallmark” version just tries so hard to replicate. Good news is the Japanese film made in 1987 is now re-released locally on DVD and is available in the shops now, and hopefully, the homage paid to the original story and the dog at the end of the film would pique interest in more picking up that version to watch.