“Hachiko Monogatari” is a film that narrates the true story of a Japanese dog named “Hachiko”, who accompanied his owner, Professor Ueno, every day to the train station before he went to work teaching at the university; the dog was also there waiting at the station when the owner returned from work, and the two of them would then walk back home.
This routine was followed for two years, until one day the professor, unfortunately, doesn´t return, as he dies of a heart attack in the middle of a lesson. Hachiko, always faithful, waited for the return of his master at the station for nine years. To learn more about the true story of Hachiko, you can see the article I wrote about him: Hachiko, the dog who waited for nine years.
Real picture of Hachiko
“Hachiko Monogatari” attempts to recreate as truly as possible the whole story, introducing ourselves to Professor Ueno´s family and Hachiko’s arrival, who is adopted a few months after birth. I loved the fact that this scene (the birth) was one of the first ones in the movie: seeing the newborn Hachiko made me shiver, knowing all what he would go through over the next years.
The bond between the professor and the dog grows rapidly and scales to a close relationship, but to be honest I think the chemistry between the actor and the dog could´ve been better, probably requiring more training time to create a greater connection that would´ve been reflected on the screen. In fact, the dog actor that plays Hachiko could´ve been more emotional in other key moments of the film. In this aspect I do believe the North American version of the film was better, showing facial expressions of Hachiko that passed much more emotion, as well as a better chemistry with Richard Gere (who played the role of Professor Ueno in the other version).
One of the surprises for me was the treatment of Ueno´s death scene and the subsequent mourning by the family (or rather, non-mourning). I wonder if in Japan death is usually treated in this way, but both the widow and daughter showed a fairly calm reaction to the professor´s death. I’m not saying this is bad, quite the opposite, I applaud a mature attitude towards death, but I just didn´t expect it to be that way. This attitude is also reflected in the way the agonizing wait of Hachiko for his master is shown. Of course we get to see Hachiko´s pain all those years waiting for his master´s return, but the scenes are filmed without over-dramatizations or extravagances. It seems to me as if the director, Seijiro Koyama, wanted to subtract nostalgia from a story that is already quite sad and shakes even the most cynical; unfortunately, even this way of filming wont avoid the inevitable tears from the viewer, especially if you feel affection for dogs or animals in general.
Attitude toward death is not the only cultural aspect we get to see, as the entire environment of the film is set in Japan, with Japanese actors speaking in their native language (I saw it with subtitles); for non-Asian viewers, seeing the famous aspects of this culture will be a pleasure, with their costumes, greetings, mutual respect, honor and all those values for which the Japanese are known for. At least that was my case.
Another thing I liked from the film was the treatment of Hachiko´s waiting phase and the characters who took care and fed him during this time. These were the people that worked around the station and knew why Hachiko continued to wait, because they had seen the routine he followed with the professor when he was alive. This was a phase in Hachiko´s life I wanted to know more about, and I feel the film quenched my thirst.
Shibuya Station on Hachiko´s days
In conclusion, the movie is pretty good. Especially if you’ve read about Hachiko (like me) or appreciate the historical figure of this dog, this movie is the closest you’ll come to reviving what happened. It´s no coincidence that this was a Japanese blockbuster hit in 1987. The film is not without minor flaws like those I mentioned, but of course perfection is unachievable. Overall, the film is well directed and fulfills its purpose of representing, historically, the life of Japan’s most famous dog. Now, as a side note I will say if you’re the type who rejects European cinema and don´t want to see anything other than the Hollywood formula, then you should see the North American version with Richard Gere. But overall I feel this version is superior. Now I leave you with the original trailer of the film: