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A Long Walk
Year: 2006
Hana Sugiura and Ken Ogata
Director: Eiji Okuda
Producer: Mark Uono
Writer: Sakura Momyama, Yukiko Yamamuro
  Cast: Ken Ogata, Saki Takaoka, Shota Matsuda, Hana Sugiura, Eiji Okuda, Tomokazu Ohashi
The Skinny: A moving story about regret, redemption, and one man's attempt to save an abused young girl's life and perhaps his own soul. Veteran actor Ken Ogata and his tiny co-star Hana Sugiura deliver standout performances.
  Review by Calvin McMillin:

Is it ever too late for a second chance? That's at least one of the questions explored in Eiji Okuda's quiet quasi-road movie, A Long Walk. Longtime actor Ken Ogata stars as Matsutaro Yasuda, a retired principal living out the rest of his so-called "golden years" alone, finding himself coping with both the recent death of his alcoholic wife and his bitter estrangement from his now grown-up daughter. Upon his wife's passing, Yasuda moves out of his home and takes up residence in a crummy apartment. At his new home, he meets Sachi (Hana Sugiura), a five-year-old girl dressed in cardboard angel wings on a daily basis. She's a cute kid, but she's quiet and she always wears the same dirty clothes.

Yasuda soon discovers that Sachi is the daughter of his next-door neighbor, Mayumi Yamayoko (Saki Takaoka), who could easily win the title of "World's Worst Mother." Not only is she negligent as a parent and emotionally abusive, but she also seems to possess a bitter hatred for her own child. In one harrowing scene, she tries to strangle young Sachi. If that weren't bad enough, Mayumi has a good-for-nothing boyfriend named Koji (Tomokau Ohashi), who is violent and most likely sexually abusive, not only towards Mayumi, but little Sachi herself. It's not an exaggeration to say that Sachi's life is a living hell.

Living next door to this dysfunctional family unit soon triggers bad memories for Yasuda himself, as he recalls his past behavior towards his own spouse and child. No longer content to sit idly by as his neighbors destroy Sachi's life, Yasuda decides to become the girl's protector, saving Sachi from further harm while at the same time giving himself a chance for a small measure of redemption. There's little question in his mind that it's the right thing to do. The problem is, however, that to the outside world, what he chooses to do is called kidnapping.

But surely, a horrible mother like Sachi's would be relieved to be rid of her daughter, right? Wrong. She reports the child missing, although her lack of any real emotional attachment to the child horrifies the detectives in charge of the case. Although it's never explicitly stated, it almost seems as if Mayumi's desire to get her child back is out of spite. The mere thought of her daughter's possible happiness or freedom elsewhere is just too much to bear.

Meanwhile, Sachi accompanies Yasuda on the "Long Walk" of the title, and he quickly learns the extent of her physical abuse. Along the way, this unlikely pair encounters Wataru (Shota Matsuda), a teenage drifter with his own personal demons. After an awkward start, the three of them form a makeshift family, as the girl quickly warms up to both Wataru and Yasuda. Unfortunately, the happy family unit is only temporary, and Yasuda and Sachi must complete the rest of the journey on their own. Pursuing them is Detective Iwai (director Eiji Okuda), who discovers that returning Sachi to her mother may not be the ethical thing to do, even if he is bound by law to do so. Will he arrest Yasuda before he can complete his promise to Sachi? Or will he turn a blind eye to Yasuda's crime and let him escape?

The film answers these questions definitively, but while the storyline of A Long Walk comes to a close, the film is still a bit open-ended. If this were a made-for-cable movie, perhaps there would be a series of "Where are they now?" updates prior to the credits, but thankfully, director Eiji Okuda dispenses with this sort of micro-managed closure. Clearly, both the journey and the destination are vitally important to appreciating A Long Walk, but what happens afterwards is somewhat irrelevant and smartly left to the imagination.

Whether it's in the form of long takes or a series of wordless scenes, Okuda isn't afraid to take his time. Thankfully, it's a technique that proves to be mesmerizing, rather than tedious or plodding. For instance, early in the film, Yasuda shaves off his hair, begins running, and even forges a makeshift practice sword out of bamboo. Although initially, what all this is building towards seems to be a case of self-discipline and personal health, it's actually something else. And the way in which Okuda simply lets the audience sit back and observe without having Yasuda announce his intentions makes the eventual payoff that much more satisfying.

The casting is spot-on, and Ken Ogata delivers a fine act turn as the world-weary Yasuda. While the film is purposely vague about the extent of Yasuda's abuse of his own family, Ogata effectively portrays him as a man haunted by his own behavior and desperate to make amends for it. Okuda is also able to elicit a nice performance from the adorable little Hana Sugiura, who is totally believable as an innocent child damaged by her mother's abuse and neglect. The realistic interplay between Ogata and his little co-star is perhaps the main reason why the film works.

In terms of supporting roles, Shota Matsuda makes a welcome appearance as the troubled young man who brightens Sachi's life, if only temporarily. However, his quick departure from the film suggests that there was (or should have been) more to the character, although perhaps that's part of the point in regard to why he makes such an abrupt and enigmatic exit.

A real scene stealer is Okuda himself, who is perfect as the no-nonsense cop, a man just trying to make sense of a topsy-turvy world in which returning a kidnapper has a child's best interests at heart. Just as viewers long to see an encounter between the pursuer and the pursued in a quality chase movie (i.e. Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford in The Fugitive), so too will audiences hope for a face-to-face meeting between Iwai and Yasuda - so strong is Okuda's performance.

Although the film falls into a number of road movie/chase movie clichés in the final act, I felt that the pairing of an elderly man and a young girl put a nice spin on those old movie conventions, freshening up what otherwise would've felt horribly stale. Whatever the case, considering the strong performances, beautiful scenery, and absorbing storyline, A Long Walk is definitely a memorable and worthwhile excursion for any cinema fan. And as far as filmic journeys go, A Long Walk is one well worth taking. (Calvin McMillin, 2007)

Availability: DVD (Japan)
Region 2 NTSC
2-Disc Premium Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital
Removable English Subtitles
"Making of" Featurette, Documentary, Montreal Film Festival Footage

images courtesy of Kinetique Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen