Retreating from the epic heroics of the popular martial-arts adventures HERO (2002) and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS (2004), Chinese filmmaker Yimou Zhang here returns to the small-scale, character-driven dramas that made him famous. Upon learning that his grown son, Ken-ichi (Kiichi Nakai), has been hospitalized for a stomach ailment that will soon be diagnosed as pancreatic cancer, gruff loner Gou-ichi (Ken Takakura) leaves the self-styled hermitage he's created in a small fishing village on Japan's northwestern coast. It's been 10 years since his beloved wife died, and nearly as long since he last saw Ken-ichi, who blames his father for abandoning him in his grief, and still hasn't forgiven him for withdrawing from the world. But Ken-ichi is more like his father than he might want to admit: He, too, prefers isolation to his family's company, and has been traveling to China's remotest regions to film traditional folk "mask operas." When Gou-ichi arrives at the hospital, his daughter-in-law, Rie (Shinobu Terajima), confesses that when she told him about Ken-ichi's illness, she wasn't entirely up-front about her husband's frame of mind. Ken-ichi still refuses to see his father, so Gou-ichi leaves the hospital without seeing his son. Casting about for a gesture that would convince Ken-ichi of his sincere regret and good intentions, Gou-ichi decides to go to the province of Yunnan to pick up where Ken-ichi left off a year ago, when he promised to return to a small village and film local opera great Li Jiamin (Li Jiamin) performing "Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles," a mask opera about Lord Guan and his great journey on behalf of a faithful friend (cue theme music). But when he finally arrives with his camera, Gou-ichi finds Jiamin serving a prison sentence for assaulting the man who made a crack about his illegitimate son, Yang Yang (Yang Zhenbo). And while the warden agrees to let Gou-ichi film the singer, Jiamin can't perform until he finally meets the child he's neglected for the past eight years (more theme music), and this great sadness is lifted from his heart. Gou-ichi promises to travel all the way to the remote Stone Village and retrieve Yang Yang, and thus embarks on a symbolic journey that has as much to do with Jiamin and his son as it does with himself. Beautifully shot amid the otherworldly landscapes of the Yunnan province, Zhang's film is sweet and sentimental nearly to a fault; luckily, he's such a master, you'll hardly notice how shamelessly you're being manipulated. Takakura gives a fine, touching performance, the kid is adorable, and the supporting characters, particularly Gou-ichi's imperfect interpreter, Lingo (Qiu Lin), add just the right amount of comic relief.
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- Released: 2005
- Rating: PG
- Review: Retreating from the epic heroics of the popular martial-arts adventures HERO (2002) and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS (2004), Chinese filmmaker Yimou Zhang here returns to the small-scale, character-driven dramas that made him famous. Upon learning that his grow… (more)