[Marxism] Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Aug 25 12:15:24 MDT 2006

Like the rugged Japanese seacoast he lives on, Gou-ichi Takata, now in his 
seventies, is a cold and remote figure. He only decides to leave his 
Spartan quarters after receiving a distraught phone call from his 
daughter-in-law Rie informing him that his son Ken-ichi, who he has been 
estranged from for decades, is dying of liver cancer in a Tokyo hospital.

After arriving at the hospital, he discovers that his son will not see him. 
He cannot forgive him for a decades-old offense that is never explained in 
a narrative that gathers strength from words unspoken. As impassive as 
ever, Takata shrugs his shoulders and exits the hospital. As he reaches the 
parking lot, Rie catches up with him to fill him in on his son’s greatest 
passion, videotaping folk opera on location in China. Together they then 
watch a tape made by him a year earlier in Yunnan province of a celebrated 
local troupe. If Ken-ichi returns the following year, the lead singer will 
perform “Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles,” a song that he brags is his 

In an attempt to reconcile with his dying son, Takata decides to go to 
Yunnan province, track down the lead singer Li Jiamin, and tape him 
performing this song. Thus begins “Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles,” a 
masterpiece of a film by Zhang Yimou, China’s greatest director. Its theme 
resonates with one found in some of the world’s greatest literature, namely 
psychological and moral transformation in the face of death–either on the 
part of the person fated to die, or those close to him or her.




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