Distance, 2001

A radio broadcast issues a public service announcement reminding listeners of the third anniversary memorial service for the victims of the Ark of Truth cult disaster, a biological terrorist attack that introduced a genetically engineered virus into the nation’s water supply, leading to the deaths of 128 people and an additional 8,000 illnesses. A quiet and unassuming florist (Arata) selects a handful of flowers for a store arrangement, before leaving work to visit a frail, elderly man in a hospital. In another part of town, an energetic and personable student named Masaru (Yusuke Iseya) hands out product advertisements at a busy intersection before spending the evening with his girlfriend at a video arcade. During a telephone conversation, he arranges to spend the following day with a person named Atsushi who, he evasively explains, is an old friend, and deliberately excludes his girlfriend from the forthcoming reunion. Later, Masaru is observed spending idle time with the florist along the train tracks before hurrying to collect two passengers at the railway station: a married construction businessman named Minoru (Susumu Terajima) and a reserved schoolteacher named Kiyoka (Yui Natsukawa). The unlikely group of traveling companions then venture off-road to a remote clearing. They have arrived at a lake near the site of the cult compound in order to pray for the souls of their loved ones – members of the Ark of Truth who perpetrated the attack, then committed mass suicide. Returning to the clearing after the solemn observance, they discover that their vehicle has been stolen, along with a motorcycle that belonged to a surviving cult member, Sakata (Tadanobu Asano), who has returned for the first time since the attack in order to pay respect. With the approach of darkness, the stranded travelers reluctantly decide to spend the evening at the isolated cabin, and in the process, reflect on the inscrutability and emotional distance of their loved ones in the days leading to the fateful incident.

Hirokazu Kore-eda presents a contemplative and objective, yet compassionate portrait of loss, grief, and healing in Distance. Interspersing memories and dissociated flashbacks with the present-day memorial at the lake, Kore-eda conveys the pattern of alienation and emotional isolation of the perpetrators from their families as they becoming increasingly consumed with the collective ideology of the cult: Sakata’s lone visit at the pier before the arrival of the relatives; the foreshadowed image of a downcast Minoru at a restaurant; Masaru’s brother’s (Kanji Tsuda) unexpected farewell at the end of their father’s death anniversary. Moreover, by capturing civilization’s increasing reliance (and dependence) on technology, Kore-eda reflects on its isolating consequence: the out-of-range cellular telephones that figuratively disconnect the travelers from the rest of the world; the anonymous and impersonal propagation of the synthesized virus through the reservoirs; Kiyoki’s husband, Tamaki’s (Kenichi Endo) myopic diatribe on the environmental malaise of modern civilization. But in the end, despite the mourners’ attempts to understand and reconcile with their beloved’s unconscionable act, the answers remain incomprehensible, enigmatic, untenable, and ultimately, elusive.

© Acquarello 2002. All rights reserved.