Hachi animal stars
Meet the Hachi Dogs and Beloved Animal Trainers
Creating the Hachi film was an incredible experience for everyone involved. The professional team and amazing dogs made each day memorable and special. The warm bond we formed on-set showed up as magic in the film, enabling Hachi to touch so many lives. ~ Vicki Wong
The Well-Being and Safety of our Animal Stars
The set of Hachi: A Dog’s Tale was extra animal friendly with much of the cast and crew showing up for work with their own canine companions, who were often wearing coats and sweaters. While training and filming, we worked closely with the American Humane Association (AHA) to ensure that all animals were treated well throughout the process.
The AHA reviewed the script in advance and set certain guidelines for the dogs’ comfort, especially the puppies because they tire easily, are vulnerable to the cold and need to be rotated regularly. Much of the film was shot in Rhode Island during the winter, so freezing temperature was a concern. The puppies wore especially made little jackets made by the wardrobe department with warmers inside, the same color as the puppies coat. In the scenes where the Hachi puppy is in the satchel or wrapped in Richard’s arms, the audience may think the pup is freezing but they’re actually nice and comfortable.
Thanks to the diligence and oversight of the AHA, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale was awarded their highest rating of “No Animals were harmed in the making of this film.”
Meet the Animal Trainers and Hachi Dog Stars
Boone Narr, the owner of Boone’s Animals For Hollywood, has trained animals all over the world for over 30 years. Having earned a sterling reputation with producers and animal groups, Narr has an uncanny ability to connect with dogs. Narr felt Hachi was better than any dog script he had read in years but knew its success would rely heavily on the audience’s emotional connection to the dog.
When everyone told Narr that Akitas were difficult to train because they don’t listen and are very stubborn, he thought, “Okay, that’s a challenge. I’m going to do it!” Unlike many dog movies this story did not involve animal trickery. The challenge for his team was making the dogs act in a way that people would “feel” for them. After months of intense training, Narr and his team achieved a breakthrough, so the Akitas could deliver the emotions the film so desperately needed. And then some.
“I’ve read a hundred scripts in my career, and few have moved me to tears. Hachi: A Dog’s Tale was one of the best moviemaking experience of my career, and I will pass down memories of it to my grandchildren”Animal Trainer Mark Harden. A member of Mark’s family, Chico patiently waited for Mark’s return around 5 o’clock each day.
Since the original Hachikō was a Japanese Akita, we chose to portray the same breed in the film to honor the dog and the true story. But Akitas are known for their independent character and strong-willed nature, and our seasoned animal trainers had never worked with the breed before. However, humans and the dog stars forged a beautiful bond, and it all worked out perfectly behind-the-scenes.
Multiple Akita dogs were trained for the movie Hachi: A Dog's Tale. Due to the long working hours and the need to have different personalities showcased in different scenes, this was essential. To play Hachi as a puppy, we used the smaller Japanese breed, the Shiba Inu. We chose three Akita dogs to play adult Hachi, training each specifically for their starring roles. Portraying Hachi as he aged and endured a range of experiences and emotions throughout his life required dogs with differing personalities. All captured him well, and the film became a successful tribute to Hachi and his heartwarming true story.
The Hachi Trio: Chico, Layla, and Forrest
Brother and sister, Chico and Layla were two years old during the production. Each played the young adult Hachi. Forrest, a 4-year-old Akita, played the aged Hachi.
All the dogs performed like seasoned pros, delivering exactly what was asked of them. Director Lasse Hallstrom had a specific vision and mood in mind, and the Akitas performed on their marks and learned all their lines! Having all the captivating dogs and puppies on the set fostered an unusually easy and fun-loving atmosphere.
Meet Chico, Our Most Challenging Hachi Dog
Of all the dogs Mark trained, he found Chico to be the most challenging. Chico barely looked at him for a month, deciding not to eat when Mark was around. Mark had to find a way to get into Chico’s head as he was not responding to the usual animal training.
So Mark chose to teach Chico a specific sequence of behaviors that humans would interpret as particular feelings. Mark had to be innovative in his work with Chico. He did not teach Chico commands like sit, stay, speak; instead, he taught him tasks on an agility course. Chico could see a tunnel and go through it, with the prop becoming his cue. He would do the action, and in return, he would be rewarded with a treat. Chico understood this process, and it became a game for him.
Because Chico was the most aloof of all the dogs, he was shown in scenes that required him to be oblivious to strangers. He did a great job in the scene at the train station, where he waited for Parker to return. Chico also played Hachi in the scene where Parker’s family came to retrieve the dog from the train station after Parker’s death. We needed a dog that would appear reluctant to leave the station, and Layla would have gladly left and jumped into the car. But Chico was not always aloof. Our most active Hachi dog, he did a wonderful job in action scenes. In one such scene, you’ll find Chico digging under a fence.
Meet Layla, Our Affectionate Hachi Dog
Always greeting everyone with a kiss, Layla quickly earned her nickname “the kissing dog.” As such, she was the dog used in the scenes filmed to portray the bond between Professor Parker Wilson and Hachi. Because of her lovely, outgoing, warm personality, Layla evoked emotions from Richard Gere that were vital to the film’s ability to convey the unique relationship between man and dog. In one scene, when Parker's friend Ken arrives at the train station, Layla sweetly “ad-libbed” her part, offering her paw as she said hello.
While some scenes required some creativity in order to get Layla to do what we needed (like baby food on Richard’s neck to get her to jump up), the scenes where Richard massaged Layla never needed any embellishment - Layla loved her massages! At one point, Richard spent nearly an hour with Layla to get the perfect shot, giving her so much warmth and attention. Layla just soaked it right up!
But it wasn’t just the massages Layla loved; she adored playing in the snow too. On the night we filmed Hachi's last scene with Professor Parker , we rushed to the train station to capture the fresh snow and Layla was totally in her element.
Trainer Mark Harden remembers: "As the weather warmed up, and Layla began to go into heat, I created a custom hairpiece to cover up her lady parts - Hachi is a boy after all!"
Meet Forrest, Our Mature Hachi Dog
Even though he was only four, Forrest played the role of old Hachi. He had to be trained to move slower by very cautiously stepping on dozens of small marks, lowering his head as he watched his steps. But acting like an older dog was just one part of the role. Forrest also needed to look older.
Trainer Mark performed the makeover himself. He used groomer’s chalk to dull the look of Forrest's coat. When elderly Hachi sat outside the train station having flashbacks with his eyes closed, Forrest wore nontoxic makeup and the trainers placed small, warmed magnets on his ears and tail to weigh them down lightly which gave him an aged appearance. Once the dog was in a “down and stay” position for a few minutes, he became sleepy and closed his eyes.
Mark always brought Forrest to work early to reduce the stress caused by rushing to the set. This helped Forrest stay sedate, so when the camera rolled, Forrest could more easily portray the mature Hachi we needed to capture.