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Eugene Weekly : Movie Review : 10.19.06


Just a Little Distance

Twice-lost in translation


RIDING ALONE FOR THOUSANDS OF MILES: Directed by Zhang Yimou. Screenplay by Zou Jingzhi, based on a story by Zhang Yimou, Zou Jingzhi and Wang Bin. Cinematography, Zhao Xiaoding. Starring Ken Takakura, Shinobu Terajima, Li Jiamin, Qiu Lin, Jiang Wen and Yang Zhenbo. Sony Pictures Classics, 2006. PG. 108 minutes.

Gou-ichi Takata (Ken Takakura) in Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles

Breaking from the high-flying spectacle of his Hero and House of Flying Daggers, director Zhang Yimou ventures into quieter territory with Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles, a story of fathers and sons, forgiveness and connection. Gou-ichi Takata (Ken Takakura) is a fisherman in a remote Japanese village, solitary in a tiny, beautiful house, the first of many striking settings against which the nearly silent figure stands. News comes from Tokyo; his son's wife, Rie (Shinobu Terajima), calls to say that the younger Takata, Ken-ichi (Kiichi Nakai), is seriously ill. Father and son have been estranged for years, but when Takata learns of his son's unfinished work he sees a chance for redemption: Ken-ichi had spent time filming folk opera in China, but never caught one specific opera as sung by a particular performer.

The opera Ken-ichi hoped to film shares a title with the film, and involves a man traveling many miles to help a friend. It's no surprise, then, that Takata travels many miles, overcoming several obstacles, in hopes of connecting with his son. Taciturn and reserved, Takata speaks mostly in introspective voiceover, relying, during his journey through China, on the translation skills of a warm young woman and her friend, Lingo (Qui Lin), who has more enthusiasm than fluency in Japanese. English-speaking audiences then find ourselves at another remove as we depend on subtitles to understand what's already been translated for Takata. With the film's grave pacing and lengthy, meditative shots, the story seems at arm's length, too distant to really connect with the viewer. But Takakura's somber, solid presence and the beautiful Chinese scenery help make Riding Alone a lovely trip, if a long one.    

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles opens Friday, Oct. 20 at the Bijou



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