Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles

Directed by Zhang Yimou. Starring Ken Takakura, Shinobu Terajima, Li Jiamin, Qiu Lin, Jiang Wen, Yang Zhenbo. (2005, PG, 108 min.)

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 13, 2006

After forays into martial-arts epics with his last couple of films (House of Flying Daggers, Hero), Chinese director Zhang returns to more familiar footing with the intimate drama Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles. It's the kind of story that shows more than it tells, a story that's forged in the spaces that exist in between characters and spaces. It's something of a "shaggy dad" story, in which Takata (Takakura), an older man who lives by himself, takes the bullet train to Tokyo upon learning of the grave illness of his grown but estranged son. Although his son won't receive him, Mr. Takata embarks on a journey to record a particular performance of the masked opera, Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles, which he has reason to believe his son wants to hear. Along for his journey come the helpful but ineffective guide Lingo (Qui) and the reluctant but instrumental translator Jasmine (Jiang). They find the opera singer who is in prison and bereft, begin a new journey to fulfill the singer's one wish, encounter an entire village that cares for one illegitimate child, and Takata forms a bond with the boy. Throughout, they travel across stunning landscapes that also become part of the story. Yet Takata is inscrutable, the meaning of his quest remains as personal and unexplained as his isolation at the beginning is. Known as the Clint Eastwood of Japan, Takakura's dominant performance deserves such comparison. It further stands up to the film's more melodramatic tendencies, creating a buffer against the story's inclination to go soft. Yet, I'd argue that this film is ultimately more of a comedy than a drama, as each stage of the journey leads somewhere else and none of the interludes ever turn out quite as planned. Clearly, Takata learns things along the way about asking for help when needed, and extending expressions of kindness and emotion when appropriate. Yet, as with his own son, the journey is one of fumbled opportunities and missed connections. We are all masked figurines in the landscapes of our souls, where shaggy dads traverse the pathways between community and loss.

More Zhang Yimou Films
Coming Home
Zhang Yimou's latest is a family drama set against the winds of history

Marc Savlov, Oct. 2, 2015

A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop
Surprisingly, Zhang Yimou's Chinese remake of the Coen brothers' debut film, Blood Simple, winds up something of a limp noodle.

Marjorie Baumgarten, Sept. 24, 2010

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
The Infiltrator
Bryan Cranston takes on a drug cartel in this ho-hum thriller

July 15, 2016

The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble
The director of Twenty Feet From Stardom does another music doc

July 8, 2016


Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles, Zhang Yimou, Ken Takakura, Shinobu Terajima, Li Jiamin, Qiu Lin, Jiang Wen, Yang Zhenbo

This content has not been formatted for this window size.
Please increase the size of your browser window, or revisit this page on a mobile device.
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)