"My agent sent me the script…I don't normally do G-rated movies, but I read the script and I was incredibly moved by it," he says. "I have been going to Japan since I was in my 20s. I was surprised when I got this script and I didn't know this story. I said 'I'd be happy to do this, but I'd need to produce this as well.' The story is very straightforward, almost like a fable."
Gere also liked the idea of doing a film that son Homer, 10, could enjoy. "There's nothing I do that doesn't factor him in," says Gere. "He's the joy in my life." Homer's mom is Gere's wife, actress Carey Lowell.
"He's had this wonderful dog since he was a child. We've had the dog since the dog was a puppy," Gere says of their 8-year-old "kind of a Border Collie crossed with a Corgi" named Billie, after jazz singer Billie Holliday.
The dog in the film, Hachi, is an Akita that Professor Wilson finds as a puppy abandoned at a train station. After a fruitless search for the dog's owner, Wilson adopts the dog, making it part of the family.
"We thought we were making a children's movie…but it's maybe a little too intense for young kids," says Gere of the tearjerker. "Dealing with very big subjects and very adult stuff.