The Student News Site of The American School in Japan


The Student News Site of The American School in Japan


The Student News Site of The American School in Japan


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Why Dog Movies Make Us Cry So Much

Photo by Ryan Stone on Unsplash
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Marley and Me, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, A Dog’s Purpose, A Dog’s Journey, and just when you thought there couldn’t be any more iterations of titles starting with  “A Dog’s,” there is A Dog’s Way Home to top it off. These are contemporary examples of dog movies that have pulled at audiences’ heartstrings worldwide. And when it comes to these audiences, I am no exception.

I remember the first ever movie that genuinely made me cry was Hachi: A Dog’s Tale. I was in second grade, and there wasn’t just one, two, or ten, but thousands of heavy tears that streamed down my face, leaving my eyes red-rimmed and puffy as I watched Hachi (the dog) grow older, waiting for his owner—a reaction I would never have had if the movie were about a person.

What surprised me the most was that I couldn’t relate at all. As someone who has never adopted or owned a dog before, I wondered why this movie—among others that I would watch later on—evoked such strong emotions in me. 

Directed by Lasse Hallström, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2009) depicts the true story of Hachikō, an Akita dog, who was taken in by agricultural professor Hidesaburō Ueno in 1924. Hachikō became accustomed to waiting at Shibuya station for Ueno to return home from work, and when his owner suddenly died at his workplace only a year after Hachikō’s adoption, Hachikō continued to wait for someone who would never come back. Hachikō’s wait lasted nine years until he passed, and his story garnered attention from the Japanese public through newspaper features, poems, and donations.

In memory of Hachikō, a bronze, life-size statue of the waiting dog still stands to this day just outside of Shibuya station, becoming one of the area’s most recognizable monuments. 

Hachikō’s legacy is more than just one statue; Hachikō’s impact on the world is also seen in the various movies, including Hallström’s adaptation and books that have retold his moving story. 

Although Hallström’s film takes place in America, starring Richard Gere as fictional music professor Parker Wilson amongst other differences, the heart of Hachikō’s story and his undying devotion still ring true.

Hachikō’s honorable traits are often attributed to dogs in general, and they are accentuated well in a cinematic setting. It is because of these traits that audiences understand that, at their core, dogs are pure creatures, regardless of whether or not they own one or have encountered one. Loyalty and devotion, and not to mention extremely loveable faces, are the heartwarming cornerstones of most dog movies.

In addition to their loyal reputation, we tend to anthropomorphize—attribute human-like characteristics to nonhuman things—dogs more than any other animal due to the human-canine bond that has existed for centuries. This anthropomorphism helps us empathize with these four-legged creatures as if they were humans. It is the reason our brains can quickly equate the death of a pet dog to losing a family member.

According to Britannica, in a hostile, ambiguous, human-centered world, we anthropomorphize both consciously and subconsciously to simplify the unknown using what we know best: ourselves.

Dog movies use the concept of anthropomorphism to their advantage. For example, A Dog’s Purpose (2017), also directed by Lasse Hallström, gives the main character, Bailey, a human voice (Josh Gad) for his thoughts. The movie follows Bailey as he searches for his purpose—hence the title—reincarnating as a new dog each time he dies.

Bailey is initially naive, but curious about the world—almost as if he were an infant. And by drawing a comparison between Bailey and a human child, the viewer easily sympathizes with Bailey’s actions. Furthermore, the verbalization of Bailey’s inner thoughts strengthens the viewer’s connection with him throughout the film. 

This connection is what makes the ending considerably more fulfilling: Bailey, reincarnated as a St. Bernard-Australian shepherd mix named Buddy, finds his original owner, Ethan, now much older. After Buddy performs a signature trick and barks adamantly at his former nickname “Boss-Dog,” Ethan comes to the conclusion that Buddy is Bailey.

In a sentimental monologue that concludes the movie, Bailey reveals that his purpose is to love and protect the people who enter his life. 

The fact that Bailey’s purpose can be distilled in such a simple statement demonstrates the inherent devotion dogs have to their owners. There isn’t much complexity in a dog’s devotion, rather, it’s innate and pure. 

Human characters, on the other hand, have a level of complexity and nuance that strays from the image of purity. In media and in real life, humans tend to be morally gray with both good and bad traits, whereas dogs are typically presented as nothing but good and precious.

Because of their impeccable on screen reputation, when we see any dog suffer, we immediately believe they are undeserving of pain, and when they die, we feel even stronger. We recognize that this pain is a betrayal of their inherent innocence, evoking strong emotional responses from the viewer.

Whether it be Hachikō’s loyalty at the train station, Bailey’s devotion to finding his owner in another life, Marley’s loveable chaos, or 101 adorable Dalmatians, the goodness of dogs shines brightly behind the camera. Whether you own one or not, through film, it is easy to see why dogs are referred to as man’s best friend. 

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About the Contributor
Hi, I'm Christina! I'm currently a sophomore and this is my seventh year at ASIJ. I'm originally from the Philippines and I enjoy playing volleyball, trying new foods, and doing anything art-related. As a writer, I love finding deeper meaning in the little things most people ignore and sharing those notions with the world.

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