A review of “Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: PG for mildly adult themes

Run Time: 1 hour, 47 minutes. In Mandarin and Japanese with English subtitles

 

 

          Zhang Yimou returns to form with a gentle journey of a father’s undying love.

          Gou-ichi Takata (legendary Japanese star Ken Takakura) suffers over an ongoing rift with his terminally ill son, having never recovered from the mysterious schism that’s torn them apart. With the intervention of his sympathetic daughter-in-law Rie (Shinobu Terajima) Takata travels from his quiet fishing village to Tokyo to visit his ailing boy.

When his son refuses to grant him an audience Rie offers a consolation prize in the form of a videotape that may shed some light on her husband’s sorrowful state of mind. The tape reveals his son’s obsession with art of Chinese folk opera; specifically an unfinished interview with a famous Chinese opera star who refused to perform for the camera.

As a noble gesture of love for his dying son Takata travels to China’s Yunnan Province with video camera in hand to persuade the star to perform his opera, hoping to present it as a final gift to the child of his heart.

          As soon as Takata steps foot on Chinese soil he’s a fish-out-of-water. His experience is rife with comic mishaps and a motley crew of characters he meets along the way who represent the bulk of the narrative; a stubborn child who takes Takata on a wild goose chase, a good-hearted translator with little knowledge of the language, a clueless tour guide and the opera star himself who is enduring a change of circumstance.

          Stirring premise offers shades of eloquence, as does Takakura’s stoic performance, but the film’s shaded intimacy and old-fashioned wisdom suffers from a ponderous pace and hackneyed undertone.

          Zhang has a sentimental streak a mile wide as evidenced by both his winsome projects (“Raise the Red Lantern”, “The Road Home”) and his more aggressive fare (“Hero”, “House of Flying Daggers”). The father-son bond is a good match for his temperament and Takakura’s thespian gifts (every expression a marvelous treat) but the overall result is disappointingly overwrought.