Distance (2001) Poster


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My view from a Distance
fundaquayman21 July 2004
looking at SSTOCKER1's question and YAKUZA BENGOSHI's comments on the movie, I'd like to offer my take on Koreeda's great exercise of Dogma-style film-making. That said, I don't think it is necessary for us to "get" the story just by identifying the roles of the characters. For example, YAKUZA BENGHOSHI proposes that the mysterious arson/impostor is the son of the cult-leader. But is that a necessary assumption? Does he have to be the son of the leader to feel that kind of emotional attachment to the clan?

And aren't most members to cult-groups considered "children" to their respective leaders? (e.g. Guyana, Waco, and Serin gas attack in Japan)

The mysterious impostor (played by ARATA)was, if nothing else, at least the link to more than one of the dead members whose relatives joined him on this particular memorial outing. Remember, he is the childhood friend to one of the dead member's brother--medical student,as well as being a friend to the dead female member--Yuko, to whom he claims as his sister.

Could he be a recruiter who introduced the cult to 2 of the dead members (i.e. the lifeguard's brother, and the dead flower-shop girl)? What if he was also the one assigned to light the fire to which many of the cult members were killed by?

The scene by the river with our mystery man discussing his faith with Yuko seems to propose the idea that this WAS her introduction to the cult. Notice the scenes showing his use of photo-shop to paste himself into the girl's family photo, along with short clips of the mystery man burning photos in the back of the hut (in flash-back form) were both inserted thru-out the film. The consistent association with fire (i.e. the act of burning)could possibly imply his motive at the gathering as his way to rid his guilt for having to end his friends' lives... by helping the others find closure, he ends up resolving his own pain--having met the family of the dead, he finds relief & a way to move on.

Notice all the dead cult members in the story joined the clan b/c of being lost (e.g. loss of love or lack of self-worth)... that is, except for the lifeguard's brother who thought the clan offered a way for him to justify his existence and talent as a physician. The housewife felt abandoned by her husband, her companion lacked self-esteem... the flower-shop girl couldn't deal with her brother's suicide, and the teacher felt confined by the existing education system, thinking it hindered his good will and talent to benefit society, etc... Whereas we don't really know why Mr. Imposter became a member. He seemed to have been ambivalent to his purpose in life, and perhaps he felt the cult was the only place where he found a sense of purpose. We know he wanted to heal people, and we know he felt the cult was the answer and antidote to the others'pain.

so many questions to a great story that probably didn't warrant having to endure the first 20 minutes to the film (which showed the group getting lost in the woods)... but if you can survive the first 20 minutes, the rest is all worth the wait...

DISTANCE (2001) is not as good and entertaining a film as AFTERLIFE (1997), but Koreeda managed to show again how good stories don't need a huge budget, sets, and lots of CG gadgets to turn into a great piece of cinema.

can't wait to see his latest film - NOBODY KNOWS (2004)
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poetic...philosophical...cryptic...and excellent
davidals19 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Hirokazu Kore'eda's creative career continues to evolve, and this expansive and meditative drama may be my favorite among his films thus far.

All of the Japanese films I've seen that would seem to psychologically touch upon the Aum Shinrikyo gas attacks in Tokyo 10 years ago do so in oblique fashion, turning into great meditations on the idea of some unseen and unexpected terror arising from within, and what that says about a society (not necessarily just Japanese society) that likes to think of itself as secure and a success - most of Kyoshi Kurosawa's films beginning with CURE do this, as does Shinji Aoyama's EUREKA. Hirokazu Kore'eda's DISTANCE is perhaps the most suggessful example of this reflective sub-genre, examining the whys and hows of society's darkest impulses, when those impulses happen to surface unexpectedly.

In this rather lean, Dogme-like film, individuals who lost loved ones to a cult-inspired act of terror and mass suicide, gather for a memorial reunion at the place their loved ones died (a former cult compound in a remote location), only to meet the cult's lone survivor. The idea of blame falls away very quickly, replaced by a more meditative sense of trying to logically and emotionally comprehend an event that is literally incomprehensible; thematically this film has an intense global relevance, perhaps more now than when first released.

Kore'eda's shifts between hand-held cameras (the actual story) and more polished/composed flashback sequences (watch for a brilliant restaurant scene) illustrating the allure of the cult to it's former members is dazzling, blending the techniques used in his earlier AFTER LIFE and MABOROSI. Kore'eda's roots are in documentary film-making, and a fairly unique style has evolved from that background (one can trace that style through the two earlier features; here it really begins to coalesce into something personal and unique): like Errol Morris, Kore'eda prefers the unobtrusive, allowing characters to reveal themselves in fairly relaxed fashion, with many precise insights emerging during quiet, seemingly random moments. This makes for film-making that is languid in tempo, enigmatic and elliptical in narrative structure (certain characters here actually seem to become more inscrutable as the film progresses), but when it works - and it works very well here - the results are mesmerizing.

Like Kore'eda's other work, there's a fairly limited commercial appeal in this extraordinary film; 5 years on it has no distribution in the US, which is very unfortunate - I think a lot of American viewers would be quite stunned by this film, given the opportunity to see it. This one is worth the hunt.
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Slow paced and ultra realistic.
legendlength22 March 2005
This film explores the developing relationships between five individuals in their late twenties. The group is linked by being related to people who were part of a tragic suicide/terrorist cult in Japan.

I am a big fan of realism in cinema, and this one didn't disappoint. Most of the film is set deep in the forest. It follows the group as they pay their yearly respects to those lost in the suicide. After finding themselves stuck in the woods, they are forced to take refuge in a nearby hut which was previously inhabited by the cult members.

Much of the movie contains stunted and realistic dialog between the group, talking about the cult and touching on philosophy. Their is so much authenticity in the way they act that you feel as though you are part of the group, listening to the conversations.

There is some plot although I was a bit lost until I read other IMDb comments afterwards. I also felt it ran a bit long towards the end (around 150 minutes). But there are three elements in this film that made it enjoyable for me: it was focused on a small group of individuals, it was realistic, and it had great acting.
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An answer for sstocker1 and a spoiler for everybody else --
Yakuza_Bengoshi15 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
This comment is to answer the question posed by sstocker1 and contains a significant spoiler. I recommend skipping the rest of this comment as well as all of sstocker1's comment if you want to avoid spoilers.


The man who poses as the son of one of the victims and the brother of one of the cult members is the son of the cult leader. I presume his motivation in presenting himself in those false identities was to better understand his father's actions by being able to get closer to the people who were most impacted by his father -- namely the poisoning victims and cult members -- than he otherwise would have been able to do. I interpreted the burning the pictures of his family and the dock at the end as being indications that he was ready to move on (burning the photos) and that he won't be returning to the lake on subsequent anniversaries (burning the dock).
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A Film about Coexistence, Life, Death and... Consequences
frankchalmers30 December 2001
Forget Dogma 95. This is real fiction. A stunning picture about a group of people touched by a tragedy: The killings of the Supreme Truth sect and their subsequent collective suicide. Amazing cinematography, superb acting. A must see film.
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Beautiful and Bewildering
thallinan17 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I love Koreeda -- "Afterlife" and "Maborosi" are two movies I'll watch over and over, and Afterlife actually changed the way I look at my own life.

But I don't understand what happens at the end of DISTANCE. I've read all the other members' comments, and none of them really seems to work for me. Even if the mystery man is the cult leader's son and he's only pretending to be the dead girl's brother, who's the old man he visits at the hospital, whom he claims as his father, although he isn't? Who's the family whose photo he assembles on his computer? And how long has he been friends with the other pilgrim to the pier? And why make the point that the ashes of the cult members were never found? (Normally, I wouldn't even worry about that, but in a movie this bewildering it's hard to know what is or isn't important.)

Anyway, that's enough of that. For most of this film I was completely engaged. The long setup pays off by delivering the characters to a sort of enchanted forest, where they shelter in the cottage that housed the cult to which their dead brothers, sisters, wives, etc., belonged -- and with them is the man who fled the cult before it committed its crime, who betrayed them. The night passes in alternations of rain and moonlight and the people gather, regather, make fires, and smoke (and smoke) and very slowly begin to try to make some sense out of the mystery that crashed over them and washed away the people they loved and thought they knew.

Every element in this section of the film, which fortunately is the longest, works to put you into the rooms these isolated people briefly share, to put you into the rhythms of their conversations and the pauses that punctuate them, and to give you the feeling that you have been part of this improbable, somehow magical, night. The acting, the hand-held camera, the mostly natural light, the absence of any kind of frills, focuses you on the extraordinary actors and beyond them, to the reverberations of fading tragedy that vibrate through these lives like a gong.

And then, when the film's characters finally return to the garish, amphetamine-paced hurry of their daily lives, for just a moment you realize what drove the cult into the forest in the first place.

It's a great film with an absolutely impenetrable final 15-20 minutes. I'd love to hear some other theories. I don't suppose Koreeda has written anything about it.
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Can somebody explain this movie to me?
sstocker14 April 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Contains Spoiler!! I don't get this movie. I patiently sat through it, waiting for the punchline. There's seems to be one, but I'm not sure what it is.

Four people make an annual pilgrimage to a spot in the mountains where a cult group lived. Three years previously, the cult had put a genetically engineered virus in the water supply. The idea apparently was to kill off everyone in Japan and then repopulate it with cult members. The virus killed a few people and poisoned thousands, but instead of living and taking over, most of the cult members died.

The people making the pilgrimage are family of the deceased cult members, except for one guy, who claims to be a brother of one of the women but isn't. Who is he? What is he doing there? What's his relationship with the old man in the hospital? Why does he burn the pier at the end of the movie? If anybody out there knows, I'd appreciate it if you wrote your explanation in this comments section. For everyone else, check out Koreeda's other movies-Mabarosi or Afterlife-but skip this one.
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Family and friends try to come to terms with the aftermath of a terrible tragedy
dbborroughs24 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Distance Three years after an apocalyptic cult released a biological weapon that killed hundreds and wounded thousands four relatives of people killed in the attack attempt to come to terms with what happened. While the nation mourns the deaths of the victims these four try to come to terms with the deaths of some of the cult members. Stranded in the woods where the cult had lived and where their relatives ashes were scattered, after their car is stolen they are forced to spend the night with one of the few survivors of the cult. There is much talk and reflection as the quartet attempt to find out what drove their loved ones to take part in such a terrible act. This is a film that will enthrall some and drive others to pull their hair out as conversations seem to trail off and people seem to speak haltingly. We catch glimpses of the past in flashback as each person reflects on when their loved ones were still alive and we see the events filtered with the knowledge of what came after. Things are not always spelled out and its not always clear who is who or what is going on. It's a film you have to work with. Personally I'm not sure what I make of this film. I like the realness of it, but there are times when I feel as though it's more than a bit contrived, never to the point of being bad, but just so its slightly disappointing (that something that gets so much right can be so lumpy at times) Still it makes you feel and makes you think about things more than most films these days. Worth seeing, especially if you're interested in seeing a film that deals with subjects that are pressing in today's world.
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"Is your life genuine?"
fubcrisp19 February 2021
There's something special about humanist cinema, and without Hirokazu Koreeda it would be incomplete. Whether it be a dsyfunctional family (Shoplifters) or my personal favourite, choosing one special memory to have it replayed before your eyes (After Life), Koreeda taps into the soul of life.

Distance is no different. It is presented with lingering questions through the eyes of deceased cult member relatives - and like a jigsaw it trys to piece together the aftermath of the horrific tradegy. We get to know each different relationship that was affected by the cult; interesting as most stories focus more on the cult members and or cult leader themselves. In that regard it allows us to understand the cult structure more than simply seeing it as a brain washing machine.

With raw cinematography and the Koreeda special documentary style filmmaking, Distance shows us the truth that cult members saw, and the truth of their brothers, sisters, wifes and husbands. It is a film of contrast, but captures it perfectly.
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A movie to soak in
wickedmikehampton15 December 2020
My current thirst for the profoundly mundane, the every-human story, is being satisfied by Hirokazu Kore-eda, a Japanese director who won their best film award in 2015, 2017 and 2019.

'Shoplifters' was excellent, gave him world renown and more awards, including best at Cannes.

'Truth', set in France, was more basic; about an actress wanting her mom's approval, the two sets their house and a studio.

That prepared me for the third, 'Distance', which was slow, seemingly meandering, threadbare and 19 years old. The younger director never rammed home a lesson, instead let me absorb it like a raw bean does with water overnight.

Although the least of the three, it was meaningfully worth it.
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Mapping Kore-eda
frankgaipa22 August 2002
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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the consequences of alienation
Kronks20 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This movie has things in common with a mystery, because its constructed sort of like a puzzle, where you figure out what is going on and what has led up to the current situation mostly through a series of terse and vivid flashbacks. A fair amount of your brain power will be engaged in that process. This structural mechanism is appropriate however for compression, and *is* done very well, in the sense that it cleverly anticipates your speculations, and it is interesting rather than overly difficult or trying. As other comments here indicate however, the ending will not necessarily resolve all your questions, and personally toward the end I felt a growing unease that this would be the case, which unfortunately it was. I personally don't think resolution has to be counter to realism or realistic impact or whatever, that viewers going away satisfied isn't a compromise, necessarily.

From the title, and from the introducing-characters period of the movie, I took the movie to be about alienation. Nobody really connects. Nobody is ever really talking about the same thing, nobody establishes rapport -- its all social awkwardness. It has that painful quality to watch which is simultaneously interesting and makes you wince. Of course as it develops your perception of social disconnection moves from awkwardness to alienation to family breakup to of course mass murder and suicide. So the whole thing starts to get to you that way, building slowly, the horror of everyday life you can't not look at thing. Some people called it slow, I didn't find that, it kept my attention.

My contribution to explaining the mystery character is that there is no explanation, that this just completes the sense of alienation the film is trying to inspire.
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Questions Unanswered
politic198329 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Before his more mainstream success, kick-started by 2004's "Nobody Knows", Kore-eda Hirokazu was a documentarian who branched out into an interesting brand of cinema with slow pacing, mood lighting and naturalistic acting. His documentary experience had been put to use, with the use of long takes, improvised dialogue and even clips from previously filmed interviews.

Starting with the mournful "Maborosi", followed-up with the inventive and thought-provoking "After Life", 2001's "Distance" is the third in his initial trio of films that are similar in style and unlike his subsequent films that would see him garner more mainstream recognition abroad.

Obviously based on the Aum cult and the Tokyo gas attack of 1995, the "Ark of Truth" cult attack three years previous on water supplies to the city left dozens dead. As an annual remembrance, four relatives of members of the cult meet and visit the lake where they were based, but the reasons for this act are unclear.

Having their transportation mysteriously stolen, they are left stranded out in the forest with no phone signal for help. It is here their party becomes five, as former cult member Sakata (Tadanobu Asano) - though he abandoned them before the attack - also finds his bike stolen and unable to get home.

He takes them to his former living quarters while he was with the cult to spend the night. Here they discuss their family members and Sakata's recollections of them and muse on how things came to be; before going their separate ways in the morning to meet "same time next year."

With the picnic, day out feel, the film is shot largely in a homemade style, with hand-held cameras and grainy footage, adding to the sense of mystery and intrigue. These blurred images are contrasted with the more conventionally shot flashbacks that each of the five have as to their family members as they first started to realise they were members of a cult. Though these images' greater clarity do not make the picture any clearer for those left behind.

The interactions between the five are natural for a group that has little in common other than being relatives of cult members. Perhaps reflecting the fact that Kore-eda saw the film evolve and gave the cast members differing direction, forcing improvisation within the long takes, handled well by the cast of Asano, ARATA, Susumu Terajima, Yusuke Iseya and Yui Natsukawa. Indeed, the film is littered with shots of the five positioned together, but looking in various directions or visibly apart; distant from each other, as well as their loved ones. Though as a double-edged sword, the documentary nature of the filming and dialogue may frustrate some viewers, as he favours naturalism over entertainment.

Perhaps intentionally, much like "Maborosi" before it, there is no concluding answer, as the motivations behind such acts will forever be unexplained. Though if "Maborosi", as has been described, is a haiku, then "Distance" would perhaps be better as a novel: An exploration of mindset, but unable to deliver the rounded conclusions required in the cinematic form. Indeed Kore-eda went on to spend much of the time after making "Distance" writing. One almost feels that if you were to combine "Distance" with the interviews of "After Life" you would have something along the lines of Haruki Murakami's "Underground" on the Aum attacks.

Kore-eda offers something of an ending to a story, though it is one with open ends in-line with the rest of the film. Atsushi (ARATA), the supposed brother of one of the cult members with whom Sakata was close, may not be the man he claims. Some beautiful cinematography from Yutaka Yamazaki to close reveal he is perhaps the estranged son of the cult leader, a man to which the others will no doubt hold some contempt. But this only furthers any confusion that may already be present in a film that asks many questions.

Alongside "Hana" and "Air Doll", "Distance" is in the trio of Kore- eda films to gain most criticism, for being a slow and drudging watch with a lack of satisfying conclusion to justify it all. But with the naturalism, air of intrigue and lack of conclusion as an end in itself, "Distance" has strong elements of good filmmaking and it is wrong to call it a bad film, rather one requiring more form to satisfy a wider audience.

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