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  • Benjamin May

Distance (2001) Review

Three years ago, a cult sabotaged the Tokyo water supply, poisoning thousands, before committing suicide en masse. On the anniversary of the attack, four family members of the cultists meet to remember their loved ones. Travelling to a secluded lake where their relatives' ashes were scattered, the four encounter a surviving member of the cult. Finding themselves stranded for the night, they take refuge in the cabin that was once the cult HQ, where their conversations reveal more than anyone expected.

Written and directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, 'Distance' is an intriguing, quietly moving film that speaks volumes about the human condition. Koreeda's characters are fully believable creations and their dialogue- quite a bit of which was improvised- is consistently fresh and authentic. Watching these people interact and learn more about one another is endlessly interesting, and their individual stories of grief are heart-rending. A profound, unaffected drama, 'Distance' is the very best of humanist cinema.

It is also a most suspenseful watch, due to the ambiguity surrounding the surviving cult member. We aren't sure of the character's agenda, nor of his past, and this creates much dramatic tension. Many are quick to criticize the ending, which raises more questions than it answers; though it's abstruseness arguably bolsters 'Distance's overall narrative impact. It is a film that keeps viewers thinking, and will no doubt linger in the mind long after the credits have rolled.

'Distance' reunited Koreeda with cinematographer Yutaka Yamazaki, whose raw camera-work keeps proceedings feeling off-the-cuff, or documental in nature. Whereas Yamazaki instilled their previous collaboration 'After Life' with a dreamy atmosphere, here he keeps things grounded; in keeping with the tone of realism running throughout the tale. Additionally, Keiko Mitsumatsu's production design- as well as Toshihiro Isomi's art direction- is understated and gritty, heightening the authenticity of the locales and the film in general.

'Distance' boasts a fine cast of talented actors performing at the top of their games. Arata Iura, Yusuke Iseya, Yui Natsukawa and Susumu Terajima star as the family members of the cultists, each delivering a masterclass in subtlety. They are all convincing, bringing an emotional weight and intelligence to their roles that doesn't go unnoticed. There isn't a poor performance in the film, and the cast all work wonderfully together. Terajima- who has appeared in six of Koreeda's projects to date- is particularly impressive, demonstrating the boundless depth, versatility and sensitivity that has endeared him to so many.

Tadanobu Asano also stars, doing a brilliant turn as the mysterious surviving cultist. A most versatile talent, Asano disappears into the role completely, intriguing throughout. You're never sure of his motivations, and his enigmatic performance will ensure your gaze is fixed his way anytime he's on screen.

A quietly powerful human-centered drama, Hirokazu Koreeda's 'Distance' is a tour-de-force in every regard. Subtly, smartly written, it contains no moments of sensationalism or spectacle, offering viewers a profound, poignant reflection of- and on- life. Featuring fine cinematography from Yutaka Yamazaki and assured production design from Keiko Mitsumatsu, 'Distance' is a visual treat as well as an intellectual one. Boasting fine performances from all in the cast, and featuring some brilliant improvisational dialogue; 'Distance' is one film you'd be hard pressed to forget.


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