Hachi Around Town


Quest is CNN International’s flagship feature show hosted by Richard Quest.  His show airs to 220 million homes worldwide throughout 180 countries.  Richard is a CNN anchor and correspondent based in London, and his regular programs include ‘CNN Business Traveller’, as well as his own hour-long feature program, ‘Quest’.The show “Quest For Pets” focused on owner’s affinity for animals and how we connect with them.  The American Humane Association is the only organization dedicated to protecting animals on film and television sets, and CNN accompanied them to see how they worked on our set.

Richard has a distinctive speaking style, and is as colorful and friendly as he appears.  He’s interviewed the who’s who of the business, entertainment and political worlds, and is a lively conversationalist.  We only had a few days notice to prepare for his visit, but Richard knew exactly what he wanted.  In this segment, Richard asked how I first learned of Hachiko’s story, and how my own dog Hachi inspired the making of the film.

I was impressed by Richard’s boundless energy.  It was early morning when he arrived, and despite coming straight from London- he greeted us looking rested and fresh.  During a quick lunch break, Richard shared some of his experiences with Britain’s royal family.  Our director, Lasse, was working all day, so Richard had to wait until he was available.  It was late night when Lasse’s interview finally took place.  It had been a long day, running around to capture the essence of the set, but Richard stayed as vibrant as ever.


The State of Rhode Island gave us an official welcome that included House Speaker William Murphy, Senate President Joseph A. Montalbano, Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, Attorney General Patrick Lynch, University of Rhode Island President Dr. Robert Carothers, and an assortment of legislators and local news media.

Mr. Murphy presented Richard with a resolution from the House of Representatives and joked that it may be the only legislative bill that passed with unanimous consent.  Mr. Montalbano, on behalf of the Senate, praised Richard for “your humanitarian efforts across the globe.” He listed RIchard’s efforts on behalf of the non-profit organization, Tibet House, and Survival International, which helps tribal cultures.  

Mr. Randy Rosenbaum, executive director of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, and Mr. Steven Feinberg, executive director of the Rhode Island Film and Television Office, spoke of how filming in the “Ocean State” boosts the state’s economy.

Richard had been in Washington, D.C. the previous day, working on behalf of one of his causes, including AIDS funding, and expected a low-key meeting with the governor.  He was “bowled over” by the filled rotunda.

New York City would have been his first choice for commuting purposes as both he and Lasse live there, but the production costs were prohibitive.  He said the producers looked at Connecticut, but it was Rhode Island’s film tax credit program that closed the deal.

Back when Richard was 17, he took his father’s car and drove from Syracuse, N.Y., to the Newport Folk Festival. “I got pulled over.  And I just want to know if he is here today.”  He then turned and pointed to Capitol Police Chief William Habershaw, standing next to him, and joked, “You look very familiar!”

After the ceremony, the entire room seemed to tilt towards Richard’s position!  Female fans were anxious to get his autograph or a photograph, and it was fascinating to see his magnetic pull. 


Thursday, October 15, 2009

In 1991, a group of visionaries united to create a unique film festival to honor beautifully made films that celebrate the positive aspects of life called the Heartland Film Festival.

I was invited to be the 2009 recipient of the Heartland Film Festival’s “Most Moving Picture” award for “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale”.  The opening night event was held at the historic Murat Theatre, and Mr. Jeffrey Sparks, President of the Heartland Film Festival, presented me with a lovely bronze statue. 

The sponsor for the evening was Mrs. Margot Eccles, and she was the epitome of not only beauty- but magnetic charm.  She has great respect for animals, and it was lots of fun sharing our love for them. 

There was a question and answer period, and I was asked how it was to work with Richard (he’s the consummate professional) and about the Akitas (also very professional!).  Many guests shared their personal dog stories, and I enjoyed some very cute animal pictures.


In Washington, D.C., Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Ichiro Fujisaki and his wife, Yoriko, hosted a screening at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery along with the Japan Information and Culture Center  in collaboration with the Japan Commerce Association of Washington, DC.  

A reception was held in the main hallway of the Gallery, and guests included the Honorable William Webster, director of the Homeland Security Advisory Board and former head of the FBI and CIA, the Honorable & Mrs. Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy, Mr. & Mrs. Larry Echohawk, Assistant Secretary of Interior, and Mr. and Mrs. Floyd Mori, Executive Director of the Japanese American Citizens League.  

I learned that Mr. Webster has a warm relationship with his two dogs.  I’ve always respected him immensely, and that increased upon learning of his deep affection for animals.

Immediately after the screening, Lasse Hallstrom and I addressed a wide range of questions from the audience. Lasse has a marvelous sense of humor.  When an obscure question came up, he’d turn to me and say “VIcki?”  Some of the questions were quite fun, and I got a kick out of them!




The SKIP CITY INTERNATIONAL Cinema FESTIVAL is an international competitive festival, with its theme being Digital Cinema (D-Cinema).  The festival received a total of 810 feature and short submissions from a record high 85 countries, and featured movie entertainment from the cutting edge of digital technologies from around the world.

I was honored to be a member of the 2010 film jury and presented the Best Director award to Jie Liu, during the closing ceremony event.  After studying cinematography at the Beijing Film Academy, Liu worked as a cinematographer on Beijing Bicycle (2001), which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival and was subsequently invited to many other international film festivals including Karlovy Vary, Helsinki, and Toronto.  He made his directorial debut with “Courthouse On Horseback” (2006) and subsequently directed “Judge” (2009).  Both films were screened at the Venice Film Festival.  The competition brought together a diverse mix of subject matters, and I was impressed by their powerful and personal messages.  

We are pleased to announce that two past two winners at our festival were recently awarded the the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards.

Grand Jury Prize – The 64th (2011) Cannes Film Festival
Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan – Winner of Best Picture at the Feature Length Competition in 2007.  “Climates” portrays the psychology of a couple on the verge of a breakdown.  Interweaving beautiful landscapes in different seasons, the film was praised for its evocative depiction of adult relationships.  Nuri won the Grand Jury Prize at the 64th Cannes Film Festival this year with his latest film “Once Upon A Time In Anatolia”.  

Best Foreign Language Film – The 83rd (2011) Academy Awards
Director Susanne Bier – Winner of Best Picture at the Feature Length Competition in 2005.  Susanne won the Best Picture at our festival for “Brothers”- a touching portrait of human relationship that was remade in Hollywood with the same title in 2009.  Her latest film “In A Better World” won the Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards this past February.  




I was interviewed by Susan Sims for “Animal Radio”, a monthly radio show with 2 million listeners syndicated nationwide including XM Satellite.  The following are excerpts of our visit on March 23, 2010:

Susan Sims (SS): Our next guest, Vicki Wong, produced “Hachi, a Dogs Tale”, starring Richard Gere which has recently been released on DVD. Hi Vicki and welcome to the show!
Vicki: Thank you for having me.

SS: My pleasure. You have produced a labor of love, and for those listeners not familiar with “Hachi, A Dog’s Tale”, please give us the background of this beautiful story.

Vicki: If you meet anyone from Japan, its almost certain they know about Hachiko, a male Akita dog who lived from 1923 to March 1935.  Hachiko is the most beloved and popular true life story in Japan, and his story has been relayed from one generation to the next for over 80 years!

Professor Ueno taught at the Imperial University, now called the University of Tokyo, when he adopted an Akita puppy.  He named him Hachiko, and they were inseparable.  Every morning, the professor would walk to Shibuya Station to take the train into the city, and Hachi would always walk along side him.  At 6 pm, every day, he would return to the station to greet the professor.  The town people became very familiar with this daily affectionate routine.  

One day, Professor Ueno suffered a stroke during a meeting and died. Hachiko was sent to live with relatives in the eastern part of Tokyo, but he repeatedly ran away to his former home.  Finally, Hachi decided to return to Shibuya Station to search for the professor.  A writer from the Asahi Shinbun, the country’s largest newpaper, published a story about the loyal dog.  Hachi became a national icon, and people from all over the country would come to see him at the train station.  In 1934, a bronze statue was made of Hachi and placed at the front of Shibuya Station with huge attendance at the unveiling ceremony.  

At the end of Hachi’s life after all the long years on the street, he was in ill health with severe heartworms, thin and battle scarred from street fights with other dogs, and one of his ears drooped.  After almost 10 years, Hachi died at the same spot he had waited for the professor all those long years.  His death made the front pages of the newspapers, and people were heartbroken.  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 for locals to say, “let’s meet at Hachiko!”  

SS: How many dogs were used during the filming of the movie and were there any moments where the dogs were more in charge then the director?

Vicki: Three Akitas were used for the filming, Chico, Forrest and Leyla.  They were blood related and show dogs. Our wonderful animal trainer was “Boone of Hollywood”, and he worked with us from the start.  Each time he’d find a new cast member, I’d drive up to his ranch to meet them.  To play the young Hachi as a puppy, we used many puppies as they grow quite fast.  As far as our director, Lasse Hallstrom, and the dogs- it was truly amazing to watch how professional those Akita were!  They performed like seasoned pros, and delivered exactly what Lasse asked of them.  Lasse had in mind a specific vision, mood- and the Akitas performed- on their mark and they knew all their lines!

SS: If you could sum up what you want people to take from seeing the film, what would it be?

Vicki: My whole purpose in making this film is to increase compassion and respect for our animal friends.  I can’t say this enough!  With all the stories we hear of animal neglect and mistreatment- I hope to show that animals definitely are emotional beings.  They are guileless, the purest of souls- and we should honor them. “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale” depicts the entire life of one dog, from birth to death, and it truly a dog’s tale- shown through the emotional eyes of a dog!  And, instead of the human mourning the death of his dog- we have a dog mourning his owner’s death.  It’s quite novel in this way.  

I’ve had hundred of emails from around the world- telling me how the film either confirmed their personal experiences, or completely changed the way they look at animals now.  This is the beauty of Hachiko.  It’s a simple story that happens to have an extremely profound emotional effect on viewers.  People say they are thinking about it days after they view it.  Hachi is a universal love story.
SS: I understand you are giving away 5 DVD’s to our first 5 callers?

Vicki: Yes, we are- courtesy of Sony Pictures who are doing a magnificent job in spreading the word of Hachiko!
SS: Thanks Vicki for taking the time to talk with me today!

Vicki: Thank you for having me on as your guest.  I always love sharing the story of Hachiko!

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