Don't look here for answers to 9/11 or the Aum incident. Best tries for that would be read Haruki Murakami's "Underground" (Vintage International 2001) or see Shinji Aoyama's "Eureka." "Distance" has two significant sets. First is a dirt road through a skyless (camera doesn't look up) forest. A group connected in various ways with former Aum members, come to honor the tragedy but stranded by a car breakdown, take forever deciding whether to walk backward or forward. Suspense builds, a little like that around the host and guests unable to leave in Buñuel's "Exterminating Angel." The sole Aum vet among them (he got out before the serin) offers a third option, essentially go sideways (almost as if Buñuel's crowd had decided to walk out toward the camera or away from it through a wall), leading to the second significant set, a not quite barracks-like abandoned Aum building. Discussion there, centering on the building's dispersed inhabitants, reminds of the Aum member interviews in the second half of "Underground." The ending's ambiguous, so ambiguous that four months later, I can't remember it other than in images.
What I do recall is Director Kore-eda speaking after my screening. Though he'd been forthcoming throughout the rest of the Q and A, when two or three people challenged the ending he began excusing and apologizing, seeming to second-guess his edits. I'm not sure he should have apologized. Strictly in images, the film has a beginning, center, and end: the road in; the bright (even at night electrically and the bridge and lake that figure in one of the tales are more brightness) heart of darkness; the road out. Last thing I remember, though I'm not sure it was right at the end, is a bright, franchise-looking shop, one of the group running in to get something.
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