Hachi and Me Shibuya Station to Hollywood

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Who would have thought that a bronze statue of an Akita dog would inspire millions of people around the world? I didn’t.

It was a hot September afternoon while traveling through Japan, when I stopped at Shibuya Station and met Hachiko for the very first time. Children were snapping photos, waving at school mates to join in, and just having a grand old time.
In the midst of all this excitement, Hachi looked so regal with this innate sense of poise and dignity. The French have a phrase “coup de foudre” meaning thunderbolt emotion – and that’s exactly what I felt!

Today, over 80 years after Hachiko made his daily vigil to Shibuya Station, tourists and locals alike gather to enjoy the friendly, bustling atmosphere where Hachiko holds court 24 hours a day- making his statue the most popular meeting place in Japan.

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HACHI GOES TO HOLLYWOOD

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Rome International Film Festival

It’s funny how everything fell in place.  My producing partner, Paul, wrote a popular book on producing in Hollywood, and he’s never seen a project come together so fast.  During the months while we worked on the script, I somehow found the time to buy a vacation home in the South Pacific.  When the script was completed, I was finally able to enjoy the tranquility of my dream property overlooking the sea.  It didn’t last long.  Soon after I arrived, ‘Hachiko’ found financing, and everything started happening very, very quickly.

The main human character of the film is Parker, a music professor in a small New England town.  My first and only choice for the role was Richard Gere (“Chicago,” “An Officer and a Gentleman”).  I wanted Richard for his magnetic screen presence, long-standing interest in Asian culture — few people know he was in a Kurosawa film (“Rhapsody in August,” 1991) — and for the integrity and gravity required for the role of Parker.

Richard’s long-time agent, Mr. Ed Limota, told him about our script, warning that his character dies halfway through the film, he was second fiddle to a dog, but that he should read it anyway.
As Richard tells it, by the end of the story he was crying like a baby.  He read it several times with the same effect, and knew he wanted to become involved.  Not only did Richard accept the Parker role, but he joined in producing the film.

Richard has always had an appreciation of Japan and says, “I’ve lived in Japan and over the last 30 years I’ve been there many times, but I didn’t know the story.  It was important to me that we started the film in a Zen monastery.  I wanted the film to be suffused with a sense of spirituality and metaphysics and to pay homage to the fact that this was a Japanese story.”

“We definitely did not want to romanticize this idea of the dog waiting, but there’s a metaphysical aspect there. The dog is just waiting, the way a monk is just sitting, meditating.  If it rains, that’s fine, if it snows, that’s fine, if I don’t show up, that’s fine.  There’s kind of a purity about that.”


Richard and our director, Lasse Hallstrom (“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?,” “Chocolat,” “The Cider House Rules” and “Dear John”) had worked on “The Hoax” together, and Richard had worked with Lasse’s wife, actress Lena Olin.  They are close friends, and their mutual respect and easy camaraderie was evident throughout the shoot.

Our cast was an absolute dream team, which included the talented Joan Allen (“The Notebook,” “The Bourne Supremacy”) who plays Parker’s wife, Cate, who is reluctant to take in the dog; Sarah Roemer (“Disturbia”) plays their daughter, Andy; and Jason Alexander (“Seinfeld”) plays Carl, the station manager.  I couldn’t imagine a more ideal group of immense talent, and this includes the magnificent dogs.
Rebecca Merle, Lasse’s lovely assistant, brought this festive birthday cake.

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Shortly after I saw Hachiko’s bronze statue at Shibuya Station, I was gifted with a Shiba that I promptly named after the loyal dog.  Hachiko had this very calm, pure demeanor, and we were inseparable for 16 years.My trips took me overseas quite frequently, but I always missed Hachiko after a while.  Once, I was being persuaded to extend a stay in the South of France, but I had already been away for two weeks. My friend still tells people, “I got aced out by a dog.”  He was right!After Hachiko passed away, I felt a huge sense of loss. To preserve the memory of my Hachiko, and the dog who started it all- “The Loyal Dog of Japan”- I began thinking how perfectly the story would translate to the screen.In the summer of 2004, I discussed my idea with Paul Mason, a noted veteran producer of over 40 years. Although he wasn’t wild about dogs, I explained how this was not simply a story about a dog, but of abiding devotion between a man and woman, parent and child, individual and country, and cut across cultural, racial and sexual divides.I was very passionate about Hachiko’s story, and my enthusiasm never lessened!  Paul agreed to work with me, and is now the executive producer of “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale“.In honor of the original Hachiko of Japan, and for all the devoted animals that he represents – I’m happy to introduce “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale” to you!  Vicki Shigekuni Wong
Los Angeles

THE LEGACY OF HACHIKO

In the early 1920’s, an Akita puppy named Hachiko was adopted by Eisaburo Ueno, a professor in the Department of Agriculture at the Imperial University (now the University of Tokyo).  The puppy came from Odate in Akita Prefecture, which was well known for the Akita dog breed.  He had a sickle tail that curved to the left and a light colored coat.  The professor was very attached to Hachiko, and they would walk together to Shibuya Station every morning.  Every evening at the same time, Hachiko would welcome the professor’s return at the station.

On May 21, 1924, Professor Ueno suffered a sudden stroke during a faculty meeting and died.  Hachiko was sent to live with relatives who lived in Asakusa, in the eastern part of Tokyo.  Hachiko would repeatedly run back to his former house in Shibuya. Finally, he was given to Professor Ueno’s former gardener, who had known Hachiko for years, but this didn’t keep Hachiko home either.

Eventually, Hachiko went back to the train station in hopes of finding the professor.  Hachiko attracted the attention of commuters who had seen Hachiko and Professor Ueno together. For 10 years, Hachiko patiently waited.

A writer from the Asahi Shinbun, the country’s largest newpaper, published a story about the loyal dog.  Hachiko soon became a national icon, and people from all over the country would come to visit him at the train station. Overnight, his legend spread throughout Japan.

On April 21, 1934, the sculptor Tern Ando created a bronze statue of Hachiko that was erected in front of the ticket gate of Shibuya Station, with a poem engraved on a placard titled “Lines to a loyal Dog.”  There were throngs of viewers at the unveiling ceremony and the grandchildren of Professor Ueno were in attendance. During World War II, this statue was melted down for the war efforts.  A replica was created in 1948 by Takeshi Ando, son of the original sculptor, and celebrated in another ceremony on August 15.  As the Akita had been diminishing in numbers- this recognition of the breed, some say, saved the Akita from possible extinction.

After all the long years on the street, Hachi became thin, battle scarred, one of his ears drooped and he had severe heart worms.  On March 8, 1935, Hachi died.  He had waited almost ten years.  His death made front page news, and people all over Japan mourned his passing.  Schools used Hachiko as an example of loyalty, friendship and good character.

Today, a stuffed figure of Hachiko can be seen at the National Science Museum in Tokyo.  His bronze statue is the most popular waiting place in Japan, and it’s very common to hear, “let’s meet at Hachiko!”

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