Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles

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Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles
Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles.jpg
Promotional poster for Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles
Directed by Zhang Yimou
Yasuo Furuhata
(Japan section)
Produced by Xiu Jian
Zhang Weiping
Bill Kong
Written by Zou Jingzhi
Starring Ken Takakura
Music by Guo Wenjing
Cinematography Zhao Xiaoding
Daisaku Kimura
(Japan section)
Edited by Cheng Long
Akimasa Kawashima
(Japan section)
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics (United States)
Release dates
Running time
109 minutes
Country China
Language Chinese

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (simplified Chinese: 千里走单骑; traditional Chinese: 千里走單騎, Japanese: 単騎, 千里を走る) is a 2005 drama film directed by Zhang Yimou and starring Ken Takakura. It premiered at the Tokyo International Film Festival on 22 October 2005 and was released in China on 22 December 2005.

Written by Zou Jingzhi, the film tells the story of Gouichi Takata (Takakura), an aged Japanese father who, ever since his wife died, has not been in good terms with his son. When he learns that his son has been diagnosed as having liver cancer, he decides to travel to Yunnan province in China in his son's place to film Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles, a traditional item in the local nuo opera (), of which his son is a leading scholar. The father hopes that by doing so, he might finally gain the forgiveness of his son.

The title of the film is an allusion to the fabled story of Guan Yu's perilous solo journey to reunite with his sworn brother and lord Liu Bei, as told in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. It is a story about brotherly love and loyalty much told in Chinese folklore and operas. The film draws the parallel between the folk tale and Takata's quest to fulfill his son's wish.


Gouichi Takata (played by Ken Takakura) is an aged Japanese father who has not been in good terms with his son Kenichi (Kiichi Nakai) ever since his wife died many years ago. When he learns that his son has been hospitalised, Gouichi travels to Tokyo but Kenichi, still angry that his father left him for a remote fishing town in Japan's northern Akita province to escape the reality of his mother's death, refuses to see Gouichi. Kenichi's wife Rie (Shinobu Terajima) then gives her father-in-law a video tape made by Kenichi so that Gouichi may learn more about his son. The tape contains a footage of Li Jiamin, a Nuo opera artiste from a village in Yunnan province of China. In the recording, Li promised Kenichi to perform Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles for him if he returns the next year. Gouichi then decides to go to China in his sick son's place to film Li's performance.

Gouichi arrives in Li Village (李家村), near the city of Lijiang, only to learn that Li has been imprisoned for assaulting someone who insulted his illegitimate son. His translator Jiang Wen (known as Jasmine in the translated script) and the local guide Qiu Lin (known as Lingo in the translated script) suggest that he films someone else, but Gouichi insists on Li. After much trouble attaining clearances from the authorities, Gouichi gains entry to the prison facility. However, Li breaks down in tears on stage and is unable to perform as he misses his son badly. Gouichi decides to travel to Stone Village (石头村) to fetch Li's eight-year-old son, Yang Yang (Yang Zhenbo). While in the village, Gouichi receives a call from Rie, who tells him that Kenichi has been touched by his efforts in China and requests he comes home. Gouchi wonders if the message ultimately comes from Rie or Kenichi; he continues with his plan to unite Li and Yang Yang.

On the way back from Stone Village, the vehicle breaks down. Yang Yang takes the chance to run away as he does not want to meet a father he has never seen. As Gouichi chases after the boy, both become lost in the limestone hills. They have no choice but to spend the night in a cave awaiting rescue. Yang Yang, initially hostile towards Gouichi, gradually warms up to him. The next morning, they are found by a combined effort of villagers and the police. Gouichi feels that Yang Yang's opinion should be respected and decides not to force him to meet with his father. At this time, Gouichi receives another call from Rie, who informs him that Kenichi has died, leaving behind a letter announcing the long-awaited forgiveness.

Gouichi returns to the prison with many photographs of Yang Yang. The much moved Li promises to put up his best performance. Supported by a band of musicians and co-performers, all inmates of the prison as well, Li performs Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles. With his own solo journey in a foreign country to seek forgiveness from his son finally concluded, Gouichi returns to his fishing town.


  • Ken Takakura as Gouichi Takata (Japanese and T. Chinese: 高田剛一, S. Chinese: 高田刚一, Hepburn: Takata Gōichi, Pinyin: Gāotián Gāngyī), an aged Japanese father who travels to China in a quest to seek forgiveness from his son Kenichi
  • Shinobu Terajima as Rie Takata (高田理恵 Takata Rie, Gāotián Lǐhuì), Kenichi's wife.
  • Kiichi Nakai as Kenichi Takata (高田健一 Takata Ken'ichi, Gāotián Jiànyī), Gouichi's son. Kiichi Nakai lends his voice to this role, who never makes an appearance in the film.
  • Li Jiamin as Li Jiamin (李加民, Pinyin: Lǐ Jiāmín, Hepburn: Rī Jāmin): Li acts as himself, a local Nuo Opera artiste from Yunnan province of China.
  • Jiang Wen as Jiang Wen (蒋 雯, Jiǎng Wén, Jan Wen) (also known as Jasmine in the English script): Jiang acts as a translator named after herself (she is a tour guide in real life).
  • Qiu Lin as Qiu Lin (邱 林, Qiū Lín, Chū Rin) (also known as Lingo in the English script): Qiu acts as a local guide named after himself (he is a real-life tour guide from the Naxi village region).
  • Yang Zhenbo as Yang Yang (S. Chinese: 杨杨, T. Chinese and Japanese: 楊楊, Yángyáng, Yanyan), the eight-year-old illegitimate son of Li.
  • The drama is performed by the Guizhou Anshun City Zhanjiatun Sanguo Drama Team.


Awards and nominations[edit]

DVD release[edit]

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles was released on DVD on 6 February 2007 and distributed in the United States by Sony Pictures Classics. The DVD features the original Chinese / Japanese audio track, as well as dubbings in French and Portuguese, with English, Spanish, French and Portuguese subtitles. The DVD also contains The Making of Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles as a special feature.

External links[edit]