Monday, March 8, 2010

Bonus video review: "Hachi: A Dog's Tale"

"Hachi: A Dog's Tale" is something of a cautionary tale. Not the movie itself, which is a capable tear-jerker, but how the film's release was handled.

The drama starring Richard Gere, Joan Allen and Jason Alexander made the circuit of the film festivals, including headlining the Heartland Film Festival here in Indianapolis last fall. It had a name director, Lasse Hallström, and seemed to have all the tools for a decent mid-level theatrical run.

But the film never got a theater run. Dates in December were pushed back to January, and the next thing I heard it was scheduled for video release on March 9.

It's strange, and depressing, how worthy movies with name stars and filmmakers can get shunted aside to video, while a whole lot of drek makes it to theaters.

"Hachi" is an Americanized version of a Japanese story about an Akita dog who shows the greatest loyalty imaginable. After Parker (Gere), a middle-aged music professor, stumbles across the tiny pup lost at his train station, he takes him home for safekeeping and -- of course -- ends up bonding with him.

Parker's reluctant wife, wonderfully played by the great Joan Allen, eventually succumbs to the dog's charms.

But this is but the beginning of the story. Parker dies suddenly, and Hachi, who had been making the daily trek to meet his master at the train station where they met, keeps doing so. The years roll by, and every day the faithful canine goes to meet the human he loves, who will never come.

It's a touching, true story based on a dog in Tokyo in the 1920s, where a statue was eventually erected to celebrate the bond between man and dog.

Hallström constructs an unabashed tear-jerker, but the film is skillful enough in playing with our emotions that we begin to forget about the manipulation.

Perhaps reflecting the film's underwhelming arrival, video extras are exceedingly thin. They're limited to a single item: An 18-minute making-of documentary that tends to fall into the familiar pattern where everyone involved with the project talks about how great everyone else is.

Once, just once, I'd like to see cast and crew talk honestly about the unavoidable conflicts and flare-ups that occur in any collaborative creative process.

Movie: 3 stars
Extras: 1.5 stars

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