Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (PG)

Sep 28, 2011
Cranbrook Film Society

Takada (the great Ken Takakura) is a fisherman, estranged from his son Kenichi and family. He has deliberately cut himself off from society, leading a lonely life by the sea. His daughter-in-law Rie gets in touch with him to tell that his son is dying of cancer and Takada realises that time is fast running out if he wants to repair the breach between them. His son refuses to see him, but Rie shows him a film that Kenichi, a fan of Chinese folk opera, had made in China of the star Li Jiamin (played by himself). Li hasn’t time to sing Kenichi’s favourite song, “Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles”, but promises to do so the following year. Takada decides to go to China and find Li Jiamin and record him singing the song and give it to his son. He is convinced that this will mend the break between them.

However, the journey is much harder than he had ever expected in every possible way. Not only is there the language barrier to overcome, but he can only succeed by depending on others to help him, difficult for someone who is used to self-sufficient aloneness. He has to learn to deal with people again and is overwhelmed by the kindness he meets along the way.

This could have been a very mawkishly sentimental film, but it isn’t. The cinematography and scenery are amazing.

Yimou Zhang is one of the most interesting Chinese filmmakers and has won many prizes and nominations, including one for Raise the Red Lantern (also shown by CFS), and probably best known in the UK for Hero, House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower. He has changed direction here with this exploration into father–son relationships and the isolation of the stranger. A theme that he explores in many films is that of the resilience of the Chinese in the face of great hardship. He is also famous for his use of colour. His father, uncle and older brother had fought with Chiang Kai-Shek’s army which caused difficulties for Yimou. During the Cultural Revolution, he had had to leave school to work as a farm labourer then in a cotton textile mill, where he also painted and grew interested in photography. In 1978, he was eventually allowed to study at the re-opened Beijing Film Academy, graduating in 1982. His class became the core of a group of filmmakers known as the “Fifth Generation” who led the cultural resurgence following the end of the Cultural Revolution. Yimou was director of photography on Zhang Junzhao’s One and Eight and Chen Kaige’s Yellow Earth (1984), both critically acclaimed and successful. He moved back to his home town of Xi’an in 1985, winning a Best Actor award at Tokyo International Film Festival for his part in Old Well, for which he was also the cinematographer.

His own debut as a director came in 1987 with Red Sorghum which won a Golden Bear for Best Picture at Berlin and brought him to international notice. Codename Cougar, a thriller, was not a success, but he returned to form with Ju Dou (Oscar nominated) and then Raise the Red Lantern. He has gone on to make many other internationally acclaimed films. He has also worked in the theatre and directed a production of Turandot. Perhaps his most spectacular recent achievement was the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics which he directed.

Cast: Ken Takakura, Kiichi Nakai and Shinobu Terajima

Yimou Zhang | China/Japan | 20122 | 107 minutes | PG


            Weighted vote 84.6%