| April 2, 2004

In the film After Life, director/writer Kore-eda Hirokazu examines the subject of death through an imaginative and simple portrayal of the afterlife. In the film, the recently deceased go through a week-long process that reenacts one chosen memory they decide to maintain for the rest of eternity. Hirokazu follows up After Life‘s celebration of life with his most recent film to date, Distance, a much more downbeat and somber film that once again explores the subject of death through a group of people who lost loved ones from a mass slaughter conducted by a religious cult their loved ones belonged to.
On the third year anniversary of a mass slaughter carried out by an apocalyptic religious sect called the Ark of Truth, four people who lost loved ones in the sect travel together to the scene of the tragedy. This pilgrimage takes them deep into a forest that contains the lake the slaughter took place. As they hike through the forest, glimpses of their lives are shown in flashbacks, revealing the distant relationship they had with their deceased family member. After visiting the lake, the group returns to where they left their car, only to find it missing. Miles away from any help, they decide to stay with a stranger who was once a member of the religious sect before the slaughter. They stay in the cabin the sect once inhabited for the night. During this time they get glimpses into the lives their loved ones once had in this environment. Only when they return to their own lives is a secret of one of them revealed, relevant to the slaughter.
Hirokazu is so great in creating still photography moods. With the proper pace that doesn’t take the audience out of the film, he sets up a shot with a static camera and subtle in frame movements, creating gorgeous images that take hold of the viewer’s eye. The moments feel without time and pressure to progress the narrative, but it neither lingers long enough or over uses this approach to bore or disengage an audience. This is definitely Hirokazu’s visual style and a lot credit should go to the cinematographer, Yamazaki Yutaka, for visually translating Hirokazu’s ideas.
No particular actor stands out in this film, like a few had in After Life, but the overall cast is solid and effective. Perhaps what felt lacking was a better understanding of the deceased family members, considering we see only a few scenes of them, but their enigmatic involvement with the religious sect helps us in relating with our main characters distance and lack of information about that aspect of their loved ones lives.
The title of Distance is continually present in some form in this film. Whether it is the emotional distance characters have from one another or the physical distance the religious sect took to separate themselves from the rest of the world, the word distance is symbolic in many forms. What stands out the most for me is the distance the main characters had in one night from their everyday lives, that forced them to inhabit a distant setting that brought them a bit closer to the people they lost.

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