Richard Gere gets philosophical when he discusses his latest movie – “Hachi: A Dog’s Story,” which is a transplanted American version of the 1987 Japanese film “Hachiko Monogatari,” about a faithful Akita dog that died at a train station waiting for its master. “The story is more than a dog waiting for his master,” said Gere, 59, this week, on his 8th visit to Japan. “It goes beyond the normal sense of loyalty. It is a connection between two beings. There is no subservience, no master and no dog; rather, they are soul friends.”
Gere, who has been coming to Japan since making “American Gigolo” in 1980, said he never really knew much about Hachiko, which has become part of Japanese folklore. According to the story, Hachiko used to wait every day at Shibuya train station for its master, a professor at the University of Tokyo. After the professor died, the dog still waited every day at the station for a decade, until it died in 1935. In honor of Hachiko, a statue was built outside Shibuya station in 1934. It was melted down during the war, but a new bronze one replaced it in 1948. The site is one of Tokyo’s most popular meeting spots.
Making his first visit to Hachiko, Gere described the moment as very emotional, especially because the sculptor was present. “In fact, when I first read the script about three years ago, I started crying. I read it once more and cried again, so I knew it was something I should take seriously. We tried to make our movie simply and honestly, making sure we were respectful toward the original story. It’s like a fable.”
The original film, which starred Tatsuya Nakadai, earned more than 4 billion yen at theaters across Japan. The new version, whose Japanese title is “Hachi, Yakusoku no Inu,” is set in Rhode Island and directed by Lasse Hallstrom (“The Hoax,” “Chocolat”). Gere plays the professor and Joan Allen his wife.
Three Akita dogs were used in the role of Hachiko and they were the real stars, Gere said. “Akitas are extremely difficult to train. Food and affection won’t work with them. We hired three of the best trainers in America and I think they made more money than I did,” he quipped. “For my first meeting with the dogs, I was told not to even look at them or do anything to try and get them to like me. It took three days before I gained their trust.”
Gere -- who was also producer -- and Hallstrom decided to shoot the film digitally so that the interaction between the star and the dogs could be captured without having to do short takes. “Sometimes, we would shoot up to 10 hours a day, focusing on the dogs, and then I’d just get 10 minutes for my part. I was definitely second-class on this film,” Gere said.
A noted humanitarian on issues ranging from Tibet to AIDS, Gere did not use his meetings with the media to promote any particular cause, as he used to do in the past. In fact, he was more interested in getting the media to loosen up. “In the U.S. and Europe, there is more interaction with reporters,” he said. “But whenever I am in Japan and try to crack jokes, everyone acts like it would be impolite to laugh.” He even tried to mingle with some photographers, but they wouldn’t have any of it, preferring to take his photo. “OK, forget about it,” Gere said, giving up. “I’m outta here. See ya.”
“Hachi: A Dog’s Story” opens in japan on Aug 8.© Japan Today