For the first time in years, aging fisherman Takata Gou-ichi boards a bullet train to Tokyo when he learns his estranged son is gravely ill. But at the hospital, his son refuses to see him. Daughter-in-law Rie urges Takata to watch a videotape of a documentary his son was filming in rural China. Moved by what he sees, Takata vows to complete his son's work. Though laden with obstacles, his odyssey into the heart of China and the kinship he develops with a fatherless boy and the villagers who care for him recaptures a sense of family he thought he had lost a long time ago.
Zhang Yimou's heartfelt feature about cultural displacement, grief, and reconciliation is a lovely and somewhat unexpected work from the director of Raise the Red Lantern
and House of Flying Daggers
. Japanese actor Ken Takakura stars as Gou-ichi Takata, a laconic man who lives in a fishing village and is estranged from his son. When word reaches him that his son is ill with cancer, Takata travels to Tokyo but is turned away. Takata learns that his son has a passion for rural Chinese folk opera, and he flies to mainland China to locate Li Jiamin (playing himself), an opera star who happens to be in jail at the moment. Takata's story reminds Li of his own sad disconnection from his young son, and Takata sets out to restore their relationship as a prelude to helping his own with Li's help. Zhang himself is unusually operatic here, with intense emotions flying around, prettified visions of nature, and characters--including prison guards and peasants--who seem idealized, both as folklore and even old, Maoist notions of cooperation. Zhang's longtime admirers will appreciate and understand this change of pace from a filmmaker whose relationship with Chinese officials has often been strained over content. But film fans less familiar with his body of work will enjoy Riding Alone
as well. --Tom Keogh
Stills from Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (click for larger image)
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