Qian li zou dan qi
If Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles wasn't a visually beautiful film, it would still be worth watching. The Chinese-Japanese collaboration is a moving tale of redemption set in Tokyo and Yunnan Province, China. It follows an older man as he seeks to repair the rift between himself and his seriously ill son. This takes him on a long and frustrating journey from Japan into the heartland of China, but also into his own heart.
The movie opens in Tokyo, with scenes of bullet trains, hospitals and skyscrapers. Hard, urban scenes, to which the director intermittently returns throughout the movie. There are several scenes in the fishing village where the father has taken refuge after his wife's death. But the story moves quickly to China, where Mr Takata (played by Ken Takakura, Japan's Clint Eastwood) seeks to fulfill his son's dream of filming a folk opera in remote Yunnan Province.
His first stop is Lijiang City, where he is found under a sea of tiled roofs and red lanterns. As he pursues his opera singer across the country, he makes his way to the remote Li Village, then Stone Village, and finally into a stunningly beautiful, rugged canyon (below).
If you've seen the work of Zhang Yimou, it's most likely in his most commercially successful works, the more visually grandiose Hero and House of Flying Daggers. But this movie is far removed from these.
Riding Alone is more subtle, gentler, even a little raw. It also uses the landscapes around the story without enhancement, letting the viewer see Yunnan Province for itself, not through a fantastical lens.
Which makes sense because the film is about people learning to reveal their true selves, unmasking themselves. And the use of the local Nuo Opera is no coincidence. Says Zhang Yimou. 'I am very interested in Yunnan and after we arrived here, we happened to learn that Nuo Opera is called “the living fossil” of traditional Chinese operas. We also noticed that masks play an important role in Nuo Opera.
'We suddenly conceived this idea of using masks in the movie to provoke people to think deeper. We did not make this up. Nuo Opera does in fact come from real life.' – Roshan McArthur