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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Hachi A Dog's Tale [Blu-ray]

(aka "Hachiko A Dog's Story")

 

(Lasse Hallström, 2009)

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Inferno

Blu-ray: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

 

Disc:

Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 2:02:49.153

Disc Size: 24,768,014,368 bytes

Feature Size: 19,700,551,680 bytes

Video Bitrate: 23.70 Mbps

Chapters: 16

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: March 9th, 2010

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio English 2881 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 2881 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), English, none

 

Extras:

• A Bond of Loyalty: The Making of Hachi – (17:45)

• MovieIQ

• BD-Live

 

 

The Film: 5
As I sat watching images of dog and man enjoying a relationship known (to my knowledge) only to this combination of species, it crossed my mind that I was being manipulated to find this movie satisfying and heartwarming. Since the story is a matter of public record (with mythic proportions something like the sinking of the Titanic), I feel it does no harm to detail the plot:

Dog meets Man.
Dog loves Man.
Man loves Dog.
Dog loses Man.
Dog waits.

That's the story in a knapsack.

The movie is based on the story of a real dog, enshrined by a statue in front of the railway station in Shibuya, Japan. That dog, also named Hachi (or, more affectionately, "Hachiko"), was two years old when adopted by Hidesaburo Ueno back in the 1920s. Two years later Ueno dies, but Hachi returned every day to the train station where he used to greet his master on his return home from work. And so it is here. Richard Gere is a music professor at a college to which he must commute by train every day. One evening, he finds an Akita puppy staring up at him with a nametag and no owner to be found. He takes him home to a delighted college age daughter, Andy (Sarah Roemer), and wife, Cate (Joan Allen), who is not the least bit happy about sharing her husband with a dog.

Professor Wilson makes a few feeble attempts at getting the word out about a lost dog – you know, flyers with photos, that sort of thing – but secretly crosses his fingers that he will go unclaimed. Unbeknownst to Wilson (but not to us) Hachi was shipped all the way from Japan to one Steven Tower (thanks to a brief flash of a torn shipping label) who happens to live in the same small town as Wilson. But Tower never materializes. When we learn of Hachi's rare pedigree and worth I could feel my Grinch begin to stir: Not for a moment do we imagine that Wilson is dognapping, but knowing Hachi's value, that he makes no serious attempt to find its owner is a bit unsettling. Worse yet, neither did Tower, whom you would expect to have traced his missing dog to the ends of the earth. I found the whole business a significant flaw in the narrative.

Flash forward a couple years and Hachi learns to make his own way to and from the railway station – a healthy walk – where he arrives daily at the expected time. One day, Hachi waits, but Professor Wilson does not get off the train, not alive anyway. Despite efforts to offer him a new home with Wilson's now married daughter, who loves the dog, Hachi runs off and finds solace under a waiting freight car. Each afternoon he waits in front of the station for a few hours for the master who never comes. His steadfast single-mindedness takes hold in the imaginations of the locals, who care for Hachi's basic needs – for the next ten years.

Now I've left out some bits: there are a few pleasant scenes of bonding between Wilson and Hachi, and the family conflict is well represented by wife Cate, who, thanks to Ms. Allen, nearly steals the movie from the dog – and would have had she been permitted more screen time. Her last scene with Hachi tugs at the heart. As it is, the dog is smart and gorgeous, and worth the time we spend watching him traipse hither and yon. But Halleström, who first came to international prominence in 1985 by way of another famous canine with My Life as Dog, is perfectly willing, more so than I it seems, to settle for lingering on images of bonding, even if only one person or dog is in the frame. There is almost no dramatic tension, nothing like Lassie Come Home, for example, which this movie isn't the least bit like (except for maybe 15 seconds when Hachi makes his way from where Andy lives, a few towns distant, to his old home.) This is different breed of movie altogether, and it means to be. It's more like a statue in motion.

 


But that isn't my trouble anyway. And this is where I am in danger of becoming the target of a fatwa by dog lovers everywhere: Hachi is seen as an heroic example of LOYALTY – Wilson's grandson boasts of just this trait in a show-and-tell in his class. But if such behavior as Hachi indulges himself in for ten years were to be expressed by a person who lost their loved one, he or she would be considered mentally ill. Such longterm devotion is not considered healthy for our species. So (as I take a deep breath and duck) my view is that from our point of view, Hachi's "loyalty" is little more than an extension of Man's inexorable and unbridled narcissism – as if Hachi is frozen in mid-fetch, with Wilson as the ball. It is Hachi's nature to be a one-master dog, and for that, the living Wilson is as proud as a parent whose child took his first step, or successfully negotiated their first day at school. But would Wilson's heavenly spirit have been pleased that Hachi finds no comfort living with his daughter? I very much doubt it. Would you want your dog to wait for you at a city park until he dies? Why would anyone wish such a fate on their dog?

Grief is a wondrous and difficult business. Many a dog owner finds it difficult or impossible to own another dog after one they loved dies – as they must, before us. Yet I question considering it "heroic" or "loyal" to stop in one's tracks indefinitely. I suspect many of us believe that "moving on" jeopardizes our chances for being reunited with our loved one in the Hereafter. Indeed, many people cannot remarry or even date after the loss of a spouse, feeling it's a kind of disloyalty - which kind of brings us back to Hachi . . . or penguins.

 

Image: 7/8   NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

Taking up about 80% of its single-layered disc and making good use of its bitrate, the AVC 1:1.85 image is warm, soft and cuddly, with some good stretches of hi-res detail in master shots (such as in Professor Wilson's lecture class.) The result is more like film than video, like what I would have expected at a small Cineplex, except for some aliasing now and then. More often than not close-up texture is hazed out, though color is generally quite good all around.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 6/7
The 5.1 DTS-HD MA mix is mostly front directed with clearly articulated dialogue and correct localization. Ambiance, most apparent at and around the train station, is subtle. Jan Kaczmarek's piano score is sweet, but relentless, and at times takes center stage ore than I would have liked. Given the dramatic material and expected audience, the audio is satisfactory.

 

Operations: 8
The menu, while a little cluttered with its time line, is easy to use with clear thumbnails that makes for straightforward access to chapters.

 

 

Extras: 2
A Bond of Loyalty: The Making of Hachi: A Dog's Tale begins in Japan with the original story and how it then came to be a movie seventy-odd years later. Cast and crew talk about their contributions and there is some material about the training of the dogs for the movie. The optional MovieIQ offers a trivia track along with the feature.

 

 

Bottom line: 5
From its contrived and (no doubt, unconsciously) comical title onward, the movie is the personification of maudlin sentimentality. I fail to see how it does justice to the best Dog & Man has to offer, notwithstanding the Shibuya statue and everything it stands for. The Blu-ray image and sound is adequate and the extra features weak.

Leonard Norwitz
March 11th, 2010

 

 

 

 

    

 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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