Based on a true story, Hachi is a puppy who finds Professor Parker Wilson (Richard Gere) at a train station on his way home. Parker is determined to find the owner, then to find the dog a home, but ends up falling in love with him and forging a bond that can only exist between humans and dogs.
Initially, I had read this book in the children's section of the library, so learning it had been turned into a movie adaptation was a treat. Some of the things that attracted me to this story are that Hachi is played by a real dog, one that doesn't talk animatronically, and isn't surrounded by some ludicrous story about a dog's adventures. The film is primarily seen from Hachi's eyes, and when it does is tells the story of true loyalty, love beyond comprehension, and how we should never, ever forget someone we have lost even as the years go by.
The message is good, although as a pet owner, I have qualms with some of the technicalities of the film. Spoilers beyond this point.
Grievances and Errors: Responsibility
The film was clearly intended for children audiences, and I realize that this is not a tutorial to owning a dog, but the person who wrote the screenplay for this was misinformed.
Although we see Parker working with Hachi and their friendship is strong, people should not have their pets off leash in public places with or without training. It is dangerous to both the dog and other people. What if the dog gets hit by a car? Attacks someone or a cat or child? Gets issued a fine for not showing tags of vaccinations? No one seems overly paranoid that Hachi could meet someone frightened of big dogs or that the Humane Society would see a stray dog and snatch him up or that Hachi would be adopted by someone else. "Oh, it's just Hachi. He knows exactly what he's doing." Um, what?
Hachi is mainly an outside dog in the film, which bothers me on a personal level, but what bothers me more is the fact that they live in the Bay Area in California and seem to get a TON of snow. I kept forgetting they lived there, because of all the snow they got. Now, Hachi is a dog made for cold weather, but if weather is getting that extreme, he should be inside when it gets to be too cold or too hot. Yet, when the dog is skunked he is allowed to be inside, which makes NO sense whatsoever.
I've worked with a lot of people in the animal training and veterinary field, and these are big no-no's. It also gives the wrong message to uneducated pet owners or potential ones that owning a dog is easy. Hachi is a large dog who never pees, gets sick, eats (except for his constant hot dog diet) or requires any maintenance other than being adored by his owners. These all play into my next point.
The original story took place in the 20's and 30's, and I was sad that the adaptation was done in present day. I think it would have had more authenticity, and I wouldn't have had the same complaints.
On the bright side, there is a scene where Parker inquires to the Humane Society only to be told that they are full and cannot accept any new additions. This is completely true, and the movie does serve as a more heartfelt and fuzzy message than the commercials done by Sarah McLaughlin. There are a lot of homeless animals, a lot of unaltered dogs and cats that have more litters every year only to find there are not enough humans to go around for them.
Despite my annoyances about the film, it is a family friendly film, so as long as some of the oversights are pointed out to children and adults alike, I see this as a sweet way to spend time with family. As usual, I get paranoid at the idea that humans view pet ownership as a flippant thing and not a real responsibility, but this is probably true of tons of children's movies, and I just haven't seen enough of them recently.