The packet that arrived from the Hallmark Channel with the screener for "Hachi: A Dog's Tale" was topped by a faux hand-written note insisting, in an almost threatening manner: "This time you will cry for real." It also included this odd statement: " Richard Gere has no explanation as to why the critically acclaimed film did not get a U.S. theatrical window."
True, the film has made more than $40 million worldwide, but after watching it, the explanation seems abundantly clear. "Hachi: A Dog's Tale" is based on the true story of an Akita so devoted to his master that he waited for him each day at a Tokyo train station. After the man, a Japanese college professor, died in 1925, the dog continued his daily vigil for nine years until his death. A series of newspaper stories turned Hachiko into a national symbol for loyalty; a bronze statue of him was erected in the place where he had so patiently waited.
But the things that make a great newspaper story are not necessarily the same things that make a great film, no matter how hard everyone tries. And everyone tries hard in "Hachi."
Director Lasse Hallström ("The Cider House Rules," "My Life as a Dog") and writer Stephen P. Lindsey are to be admired for their firm anti-"Marley & Me" stance. Their tale is simple, told through a child describing his grandfather's dog as his "hero." Coming home one night by train, college music professor Parker Wilson (Gere) finds an Akita puppy who has busted out of his unlabeled crate. The train station manager (played, for no apparent reason, by Jason Alexander) wants nothing to do with the dog, and so Parker takes him home to his inexplicably irritated wife, Cate ( Joan Allen).