An unusual movie that it deals with difficulties not understanding another language. A father, a Japanese fisherman has been estranged from his son and wants to make amends. He learns his son is in a hospital and feels he should attempt a reconciliation.
His Daughter-in-law tries to bring them together in hospital but her husband, the son adamantly refuses. She left her father in law a video tape to show what the son had done. In the tape the son promised a folk opera singer he would return next year when the singer would be able to sing much better. "Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles" was a classic opera. The singer had boasted that he was the best performer for this opera.
The father felt this was an opportunity to redeem himself. He told his daughter in law not to tell the son and set off to China. He engaged the services of a tour guide who could speak Japanese and then hooked up with a local expert who had a broken understanding of Japanese. One of the first things he learned was that the singer had just been imprisoned for attacking a man. All the experts noted that many other singers could sing the role it was be easy to find another. But the father felt a promise had been made and he had to fulfill it. Talking to his daughter in law she assured him the promise had only been made to be polite.
The father was frustrated that the people he relied upon were all saying he should go home and forget it. His natural habits made it difficult to deal with people. The people talked behind his back criticizing him and although he knew he was being mocked, he kept pushing and asking for more help.
Visiting the prison and going through a lot of rigamarole for permission, the singer declared he was too depressed to sing. Citing his love for his missing son. The father decided the thing to do would be to find the son and bring him back. He learned later the singer had never seen his son and that he was illegitimate and lived a distance away. He found himself relying on the local guide who had poor Japanese skills and would talk to the original tourist guide to get better translations.
He had difficult talking to the 8 year old because of the language. They somehow got lost together and the big breakthrough came from when the young boy wanted to pee in private. After a fairly graphic scene the father made a joke and won over the young boy. He becomes more concerned about the boy's welfare and discovers the boy does not want to see his father. He finds himself questioning his own parenting history.
The ending is endearing in that the father realizes he doesn't have to complete his mission, the singer feeling he has let everyone down and the prison authorities have assembled musicians and audience that would be disappointed if there were no performance. Chinese folk opera is not at all how opera is usually thought of. It does have a traditional following and you might get a better appreciation for it, but you might not.
There, I told you most of the story. Reconciliation sort of happens, not exactly the way you hoped. The beauty of the movie is realizing human nature is changeable with experience.
This film succeeded because of the cast and crew.
Yimou Zhang, the director and script contributor is better known for action films such as "Raise the Red Lantern" (1991, "House of flying Daggers" (2004) and "Curse of the Golden Flower"(2006). He also done more drama such as "Coming Home" (2014) and "Shadow" (2018). He was chief director for both the Opening and Closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. He was fined $12. million fo rhaving 3 kids which was against Chinese law at the time, but has since been lapsed. He has also been on the juries at both the Berlin International Film Festival in 1993 and the Venice Film Festival in 2007. He has also written and produced films.
Yasuo Furuata directed the scenes in Japan. He had worked on a number of films with Ken Takakura.
Xiaoding Zhao, the cinematographer has won international awards and was nominated for one Oscar "House of the Flying Daggers". Since 2019 has been a member of American Society of Cinematographers (ASC). He would have been one of the camera men who excelled in wu xia which was to exagerate martial moves, sometimes by slowly down action, other times by reversing and of course the right angles and holding devices. In this film there are some scenes of a majestic rock valley that he has captured very well.
Ken Takakura played the estranged father. He had started acting in films back in 1956 with 142 credits. This was his second to last movie.
Shinobu Terajima played the daughter in law. She is a national award winner starting in films from 1995.
Kiichi Nakai played the son, but the viewer hears only the voice. He was a national award winner having started films in 1983. Of interest to me is that he appeared in a mini series of stories by Higashino Keigo, a favorite author of mine.
Learn more about Chinese cinema: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2014/08/chinese-cinema-is-peek-into-their_1.html