September 15, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 37
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Saturday, Jul 04, 2020



Silence of Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles speaks volumes
Silence of Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles speaks volumes
by Lorelei Quenzer - SGN A&E Writer

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles

Directed by Zhang Yimou

Starring Ken Takakura, Qiu Lin, Li Jianmin and Yang Zhenbo

Opens today Landmark Metro

I'm telling you right from the get-go: this is not going to be a balanced review. That's because Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles is my favorite film so far this year, and I can hardly contain myself. Go out and buy a ticket before I gush all over myself. Hm. That didn't come out right.

Okay, you're still reading, which means you need to know more. What, you don't trust me? Well, as a fan of subtitled cinema I'm admittedly predisposed to like this movie. Even if it wasn't by one of my favorite directors, Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern, Happy Times), it would have the advantages of not coming out of Hollywood, not being a remake and not being a sequel. You know Zhang's films, which are usually about strong women facing moral dilemmas. Even his testosterone-infused martial arts masterpieces, Hero and House of Flying Daggers, feature women in pivotal roles. Riding Alone& is different ground for Zhang in that it's about men; specifically, the father-son relationship.

Gouichi Takata (Ken Takakura, Black Rain) is an elderly fisherman living in an isolated coastal town in Japan. He is estranged from his son Kenichi, whom he hasn't seen, much less spoken to, for ten years. Takata-san finds out that Kenichi is gravely ill and desires reconciliation; when he arrives at his son's bedside he discovers that, yes, Kenichi is ill, but no, he's not ready to make up. In fact, Takata's daughter-in-law Rie (Shinobu Terajima) has engineered this unsuccessful reunion without consulting her husband.

Before Takata can stalk off in a huff Rie asks him to watch a video so he can learn about his son and his son's great passion, Chinese Opera. Kenichi has made a study of the subject, even traveling to rural China to videotape performances by regional opera troupes. But one performance - of the title song, "Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles" - by renowned master Li Jianmin has eluded his lens. Takata-san, who needs to find something he can do for his son, decides to take up the quest. He hires a car and an interpreter, and he's off to Yunnan Province to film Master Li.

Obviously I wouldn't be saying this is my favorite movie of the year if the plot was as bare as finding a man to sing a song. I won't spoil Takata's travels for you by divulging any of the obstacles he encounters. I will say that the scenery of Yunnan is beautiful, but Riding Alone& is much more of an inward journey than it is about the travel.

This is Ken Takakura's film and he is a revelation as Takata, whose solitude is as necessary to him as breathing. Because he is so taciturn and stoic we are left to fill the silences of his story with our own experiences. Takakura's face communicates very little, leaving room for the audience to speculate about what drove the father and son apart in the first place, or why he must continue on with the search - other than Takata-san's superlative stubbornness, which is evident throughout. Even in his own home, where he speaks the language and may be surrounded by caring friends and family, it's understood that Takata has been "riding alone" for a very long time.

Y'all need to go, right now, and see Riding Alone& Keep it in town for weeks. Bring your handkerchief. Bring three handkerchiefs. And bring at least one extra for me, because I will be in line to see this gem again. Okay, I'll bring my own tissue, but you have to bring your own dad.

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