Saturday, March 23, 2013

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles

Directed by Zhang Yimou, with Japanese scenes directed by Yasuo Furuhata, and written by Zou Jingzhi from a story by Yimou, Jingzhi, and Bin Wang, Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles is the story about a Japanese fisherman who learns about his estranged son’s illness with cancer as he travels to China to film a folk opera that his son wanted to see. The film is the story of a man trying to reconnect with his son as he goes on a personal journey to discover his son‘s love for Chinese folk opera. Starring Ken Takakura. Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles is a heartwarming drama from Zhang Yimou.

The film is this simple story about the journey of a Japanese fisherman who travels to China to fulfill his estranged son’s dying wish to see a Chinese folk opera performed by the singer who can sing this particular opera known as Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles. In this journey, the man known as Gouichi Takata (Ken Takakura) travels through China to capture this opera and meet this sing named Li Jiamin who is serving time in prison who asks Takata to bring his eight-year old son so he can meet the boy he had never seen before. Takata along with Chinese man who speaks little Japanese go to a small village to retrieve Li Jiamin’s son Yang Yang (Yang Zhenbo) where Takata tries to come to term with the estrangement of his own son. Even as he starts to bond with this little boy in a land that is foreign to him while trying to fulfill his duties as a father to give his son a last chance at reconciliation.

The screenplay by Zou Jingzhi does play to a simple structure as it opens in Japan where Takata is a lonely man who gets a call from his daughter-in-law Rie (Shinobu Terajima) about his son’s illness. Takata is a man who feels like he’s done wrong with his son whom he hadn’t seen or heard from for 10 years since the death of his wife. After Rie’s call, he travels to Tokyo to see Rie where he overhears his son refusing to see him forcing Takata to believe that he is unwanted. After seeing a tape of his son’s film report on Chinese folk opera and a call from Rie about his son’s condition, Takata feels like he has to fulfill his duties as a father in the hopes he can reconcile with his son. The journey to China in the Yunnan province would be an unforgettable one as Takata not only begins to more about the idea of being a father but also to help another see the son he had never met. What the film does reinforce is the role of being father and how one man tries to seek redemption by helping another to get the chance to see his son while fulfilling his own son’s final wish.

The direction of Zhang Yimou is very simple and understated in the way he presents the drama of a man’s journey for his dying son. With some help from Japanese director Yasao Furuhata for the scenes shot in Japan, Yimou creates images that are just enchanting from the melancholic yet sedated look of the scenes of the Japanese seas and Tokyo to the more colorful scenery of the mountains in the Yunnan province. Yimou provides a lot of gorgeous wide shots to capture the beauty of these mountains and the Stone village where Yang Yang lives that is full of life. Still, Yimou is aware that the film’s climax must feature the opera that Takata has to film for his son to see. Yet, it is more for Takata himself as it is his story where he often reflects his own experience in his voice-over narration. Overall, Yimou creates a very touching yet engrossing drama about a father trying to regain his dying, estranged son’s love by fulfilling this final wish.

Cinematographers Zhao Xiaoding and Daisaku Kimura do amazing work with the film‘s photography with Xiaoding providing many of the film‘s gorgeous look for the scenes set in China with its array of colors in day and night while Kimura goes for a more low-key yet grayer look for the scenes set in Japan. Editors Cheng Long and Akimasa Kawashima do superb work with the editing as both provide a more low-key yet methodical approach to the editing with Long doing the scenes in China and Kawashima in the Japanese sections of the film. Production designers Sun Li and Takaichi Wakamatsu do wonderful work with the set pieces with Li providing some of the staging for the Chinese operas while Wakamatsu does some of the film’s sets in the Japanese sections.

Sound designers Teiichi Saito and Jing Tao, along with co-sound editor Yuhong Wang, do fantastic work with the sound with Saito providing many of the sound work set in Japan for the scenes in the sea while Tao and Wang provide a more low-key approach for the scenes set in China as well as an intimacy in some of the discussions that occur. The film’s music by Guo Wenjing is brilliant for its somber yet serene score that mixes orchestral string arrangements with traditional Chinese music to play out Takata’s journey.

The film’s cast is marvelous as it features mostly non-actors in the scenes set in prison while it features some noteworthy performances from Qiu Lin as the tour guide, Jiang Wen as the translator who accompanies Takata, Li Jiamin as the incarcerated actor who can perform the opera, Yang Zhenbo as Li Jiamin’s son, Kiichi Nakai as the voice of Takata’s ailing son Kenichi, and Shinobu Terajima as Takata’s daughter-in-law Rie who is dealing with what is ahead as she often tries to reach Takata in his journey through China. Finally, there’s Ken Takakura in a phenomenal performance as Gouichi Takata where Takakura provides a restraint to a man not willing to show his emotions as he goes in this journey while showing moments where he can be engaging as it’s a really mesmerizing performance for the Japanese actor.

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles is an extraordinary film from Zhang Yimou and Yasuo Furuhata that features a sublime performance from Ken Takakura. While it’s a much more understated film from Yimou in comparison to his more lavish martial arts films, it is still an engaging one for the way it explores fatherhood and a man’s attempt to reconcile with his dying son by going on this journey. In the end, Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles is a remarkable film from Zhang Yimou.

Zhang Yimou Films: (Red Sorghum) - (Codename Cougar) - (Ju Dou) - (Raise the Red Lantern) - (The Story of Qiu Ju) - (To Live) - (Shanghai Triad) - (Keep Cool) - Not One Less - (The Road Home) - (Happy Times) - (Hero) - House of Flying Daggers - Curse of the Golden Flower - A Simple Noodle Story - (Under the Hawthorn Tree) - (The Flowers of War) - Coming Home (2014 film) - The Great Wall (2016 film) - (Shadow (2018 film)

© thevoid99 2013


Chris said...

Glad you liked this one so much, an under-appreciated Zhang Yimou gem. I suggested watching with friends, they didn't even want to, because of the title. Their loss, because as you say, a heartwarming drama. Didn't matter was set in China, to me the story about hidden feelings & father and son was universal. Gorgeously photographed too.

thevoid99 said...

I was amazed by the film and how simple it was. Your friends just missed out on a great movie. Especially for the fact that it's a great tearjerker.