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In a village of fishermen in Japan, Takata misses his son Kenichi, to whom he has been estranged for many years. When his daughter-in-law Rie tells him that Kenichi is sick in the hospital, she suggests Takata to come to Tokyo to visit his son in the hospital where he would have the chance to retie the relationship. However, Kenichi refuses to receive his father in his room, and Rie gives a videotape to Takata to know about the work of his son. Once at home, Takata sees a documentary in the remote village Lijiang, in the province of Younnan, about the passion of Kenichi, the Chinese opera, where the lead singer Li Jiamin promises to sing an important folk opera on the next year. When Rie calls Takata to tell that her husband has a terminal liver cancer, Takata decides to travel to Lijiang to shoot Li Jiamin singing the opera to give to Kenichi. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The film was denied the Official Selection berth in Cannes. See more »
In the village scene Mr. Takata has to move to the highest location to make a phone call. In the following scene however he can receive phone calls while at a banquet in the lower part of the village. See more »
My extremely limited knowledge of Asian cinema revolves almost entirely around that of South Korea; ignorance is a word which quickly springs to mind when considering both Japan and China. Having just last night endured the interminably fatuous nonsense of the Japanese Desu Nôto, I was somewhat afeared of returning so soon to that country.
Qian Li Zou Dan Qi tells the tale of the elderly Mr Takata, who journeys from his native Japan to a small Chinese village in order to record the titular mask opera for the benefit of his terminally ill son, from whom he is a decade estranged.
Now, obviously one terrifically awful film does not an awful national cinema make. However, I genuinely was a little put off by the prospect of watching another Japanese film so soon after the preceding opprobrium. Qian Li Zou Dan Qi begins with a combination of impressive and foreboding elements: its cinematography is immediately impressive; its apparent reliance on voice-over narration to express its main character's thoughts a little primal. Both of these remain, to some extent, present throughout the film, the former continually providing breathtaking visuals, the latter offering a slight detraction to the film's potential effect. To dwell on one for a moment, the rurality of the Chinese settings provides beauty aplenty for the camera, and we with it, to gaze upon. Many are the times wherein mountainous landscapes offer a stunningly beautiful accompaniment to the oriental soundtrack, the two combining to create a powerful and moving aesthetic which, the more the film goes on, demonstrates director Yimou Zhang's artistic mastery. Aside from the opening shot, the earlier parts of the film seem to lack a distinct visual prowess, but fret not, this is more than made up for by the end. Several times, the visuals convey thematic ideas to us through a combination of sky-spanning cinematography and telling blocking (wonderful to see that element of mise-en-scène utilised well), yet this is marred somewhat mere seconds later by the voice-over presenting the same ideas. Whilst I accept that this may be an accessibility issuecinematic language is not one universally spokenI did feel the film could have got along perfectly without narration at all, though it is by no means a serious flaw. The theme of paternal stoicism is one which I find inherently interesting at the worst of times, and is here given a fascinating treatment, the entirety of the film's effect hinged upon Ken Takakura's beautifully subtle performance. A gentle comedy permeates the film's dramatic layers, but always finds itself immediately overturned by the sombre drama of Takakura's face, which speaks volumes upon volumes with the simplest of motions. A wonderful element of the film comes in the form of the mask opera's singer's son, and the concomitant metaphorical representation of the relationship between Takata and his own son, an interesting and wholly effective means of presenting an otherwise unrealised dynamic. The film's eventual conclusion is tear-inducingly moving, capping a story that is described encompassingly in a single, simple word: lovely.
A very finely shot film which knows how to talk to its audience with images rather than words, yet still somewhat disappointingly opts to employ them, Qian Li Zou Dan Qi is a touching Japanese/Chinese co-production which attests to the beauty of both nations' rural landscapes and cultural aspects, as well as offering a genuinely moving, poignantly performed, and universally relevant tale.
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