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Vol. 5, No. 5, 2006
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Robert J. Lewis
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Born into Brothels
The Edukators
Big Sugar

Eiji Okuda's


reviewed by


In nature there's no blemish but the mind.
None can be called deformed but the unkind. Shakespeare


There isn’t one of us who hasn’t at some point in life regretted something done in the past. In most cases, we are owning up to regrets of minor proportion limited to a particular moment or narrow time frame. But in certain cases, what is regretted is a long-term pattern of reprehensible behaviour that has caused significant suffering and sometimes irreversible consequences. In the spirit of recognizing the unfinished product each and everyone of us is, involuntarily or otherwise, we may one day find ourselves at a crossroads moment where we recognize the persistent misconduct for what it is, and either deny it, remain pat with it, or resolve to make amends and evolve a more upright, dignified version of ourselves.

Eiji Okuda’s quietly compelling, deftly crafted film, A Long Walk, which won the coveted Grand Prix of Americas for best film at the 2006 version of the Montreal World Film Festival, begins at this archetypal crossroads moment, just after Matsutaro Yasuda, a retired school teacher and life long abuser, has buried his wife whom he drove to alcoholism.

In his opening act of repentance, Yasuda hands over his sumptuous home to a daughter who wants nothing to do with him, and then, after renouncing all his worldly possessions, moves into a dilapidated apartment building -- the perfect setting for his self-imposed exile and punishment, and apt metaphor for the self-loathing and ugly person he must live with. Yasuda, whose morose gait and defeated posture achieve the radiance of poetry, can barely cope with the guilt and regret that are consuming him; he desperately wants to redeem himself, but doesn’t know how to coax into existence this better person that has lain stillborn for so many years.

Little SachiHe introduces himself to his attractive next door neighbour who ignores him. She's a bar girl on a 24/7 high, whose deadbeat boyfriend lives off her and beats her up when either money, alcohol or drugs are in short supply. Together they alternately ignore and abuse her 5-year old daughter, Sachi, whose screams pierce Yasuda’s thin walls at night. During his oft interrupted sleep, he flashes back to the hell and horrors to which he repeatedly subjected his wife and daughter, until his self-disgust hits the fan and he decides he must save little Sachi from further abuse.

In total disregard for the laws of the land, Yasuda, like a man possessed by a higher calling, steals away with Sachi and together they take to the road. And as their long night’s journey into day begins -- not unlike the Australian ‘walkabout’ that marks the initiate Aborigine’s rite of passage to adulthood -- thus begins Yasuda’s rehabilitation and Sachi’s introduction to the solicitations and affections that constitute normal childhood.

As the film follows the protagonists' step-by-step recovery of their long suppressed human dimension, the volatile Sachi gradually overcomes her deep fear and mistrust of Yasuda and learns to accept and cherish the unconditional care and love denied her for so long. In the film’s most heartwrenching scene, just after little Sachi has begun to call Yasuda 'grandfather,' and the latter realizes that their walk and privileged relationship must come to an end, he collapses to his knees in a public square, a broken, inconsolable man, and grieves the inevitable loss of Sachi who has revealed to him the kind of relationship he could have had with his flesh and blood daughter.

If we learn that the price of redemption includes the unavoidable recognition that we cannot undo what has been done, we discover, like an unsuspected source of light in a dark place, that we are always on a journey, and that no matter where we are, we can always choose to remake ourselves according to new values we wish to make explicit.

Kudos go to the wonderfully restrained acting of Ken Ogata who plays Yasuda, the flawlessly understated cinematography of Hirokazu Ishii and the inspired direction of Eiji Okuda, under whose guidance the entire cast and crew are made to serve the highest purpose of film, which is to seize upon those accidents of life that persuade us to become more sympathetic to the sometimes difficult choices people have to make in very difficult circumstances.

Since most film festival films are destined for a short shelf life, and in many instances oblivion, if A Long Walk comes to a theatre near you, make sure you catch it before you’re left wondering why. It is a brave, fully realized film, fully deserving of the modest honours it has thus far garnered.

Postscript to the 2006 Montreal World Film Festival
There are film festivals and star festivals. Unlike Toronto or Cannes, there were no Brad Pitts or Nicole Kidmans at the 2006 version of the Montreal World Film Festival: just a lot of well-made, quality films, which is what a top notch film festival is all about -- bringing to the notice of the public worthy films that rarely get to see the light of day. Serge Losique and his team, whose mission it is to find and feature these often significant ‘little gems,’ deserve the highest marks for their hard work and uncompromising application of time-tested, critical faculties of judgment which are the sine qua non of any successful film festival.

Due to prior commitments, I had time for only 10 films. Here are my ratings, always out of 4, reserving 2.5 or more for a noteworthy film, 3.5 for an exceptional film, 4 for a classic.

3.5 A Long Walk, Eiji Okuda
3.1 Snow in the Wind, Yang Yazhou
2.7 The Chinese Botanist's Daugther, Dai Sijie
2.6 The Greatest Love of All, Carlos Diegues
2.6 La Bicicleta, Sigfrid Monleon
2.5 The Trial (La Prueba), Judist Vélez
2.5 Loach is a Fish, Too, Yang Yazhou
2.3 Fireworks, Asghar Farhadi
2.0 Our Earthmen Friends, Bernard Werber
1.5 Fisherman’s Daughter, Salinda Perera = shared webhosting, dedicated servers, development/consulting
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