Document type
10 May 2001
Format viewed


picture: Distance (2001)picture: Distance (2001)

Original title
Hirokazu KORE-EDA
  • Susumu TERAJIMA
  • Tadanobu ASANO
  • Yusuke ISEYA
  • Kenichi ENDO
  • RYO
Running time
132 mins.

picture: Distance (2001)

Tom Mes

One of the characteristics of contemporary Japanese film is the attempt at merging documentary and fiction; the creation of a cinema which is fictional but which strongly reflects the daily life around the filmmaker and around us all. Together with Makoto Shinozaki (Okaeri, 1998 and Not Forgotten / Wasurerarenu Hitobito, 2000) and Naomi Kawase (Suzaku / Moe No Suzaku, 1997, and Hotaru, 2001), Hirokazu Kore-Eda is probably this wave's best-known representative.

Like Shinozaki and Kawase, Kore-eda's filmography contains both documentaries (Without Memory / Kioku Ga Ushenawareta Toki, 1997) and fiction films (Maborosi / Maboroshi No Hikari, 1995 and After Life, 1998) and his work in both genres witnesses the search for a filmmaking unhindered by the boundaries of the form.

Distance is no exception. In fact, it is probably the director's most radical attempt at fusion yet. It tells the story of a group of people whose relatives were all members of a religious cult that ended in a mass-suicide on the shores of a forest lake. They travel to the lake to commemorate their loved ones and meet the cult's only surviving member (Asano). When their vehicles get stolen (a plot twist a little bit too reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project), they are stuck and forced to spend the night at a cabin once used by the cult members. Over the course of this night memories and emotions come to the surface as each is forced to deal with the tragedy and the changes it has brought on in their own lives.

Distance tries to dispense with a fictional form altogether, but sadly dispenses with a few other things in the process. This kind of search for extreme realism in a fiction film makes it very hard to comment on Distance's merits as a film. As a viewing experience it is neither engaging nor exciting. As the title implies (though I'm sure this wasn't the intention), the viewer is kept at a distance throughout the film, coldly observing, but being allowed to do little else. We just sit and stare for 132 minutes as these events unfold before our eyes and at the end we leave feeling no different from when we came in. If there's anything we take with us upon leaving the theatre, it's probably a sense of disappointment.

It sounds rather harsh perhaps, but even though Distance has its merits, it is the dictionary definition of self-indulgent. It's a film that is made for the people involved, not for an audience. Saying the director left a lot of room for improvisation is an understatement. His method for this film consisted of giving each actor conflicting motivation and watching what happened next. Naturally, the performances exude a great sense of spontaneity and no doubt director, cast and crew received great artistic fulfilment from working on this film. The audience however, receives no fulfilment at all. Distance was made to be released to an audience, but if cast and crew had kept it to themselves it probably wouldn't have made any difference.


Panorama (Hong Kong)

picture: DVD cover of 'Distance'

Region 3. English, Chinese subtitles.

Buy at:

Bandai Visual (Japan)

picture: DVD cover of 'Distance'

Region 2. English subtitles.