An old man saves a 5-year-old girl from abuse, takes her on a journey to the blue sky and turns her cardboard angel wings into real ones. Good story, but it’s not only the story that gives Nagai Sanpo (A Long Walk) its charm, and maybe it’s not what made it deserve the FIPRESCI prize at the 30th Montreal World Film Festival.
This film is not only about child abuse or flying through blue skies; it is primarily about love. Three lonely characters that lack love and seek it on their long walk and in each other. An old man who lost his wife to alcohol and who has become estranged from his daughter, a child who is monstrously beaten, maltreated by her own mother and even abused by her mother’s lover, and a young man who holds an empty feeling in his heart.
Eiji Okuda, actor turned director, has one theme running through his three films as director: “True Love”. He thinks life is a long walk and if there is love we can continue walking. To achieve his goal, he goes deep into his characters; he portrays loneliness in a way that justifies their acts. He lets images do a lot of the talking, though the dialogue is poetic.
Many consider the film too long (136 min), but I think this aims to give enough time for contemplation and makes viewers think and feel with full emotions. In spite of its length, the film has smooth and very good editing. No shot could be replaced or cut.
A Long Walk, a Japanese production of 2006, goes along with many of the Montreal Festival’s World Competition films in discussing life, death and eternity; in providing sad endings, but it is distinguished by the fact that it does not have a pessimistic vision; on the contrary, it gives hope, and it does not reach its sad end until its characters have achieved their goals. The old man had to be arrested for “kidnapping” the child, the two main characters had to split, but this does not happen until both find the love they needed and the open blue sky they wished for.
Since there was not a lot of dialogue, actors mainly reacted with their eyes, which gave us great performances, especially from veteran actor Ken Ogata, who played the main role, and who starred in Imamura’s Palme d’Or winner Tatsuhei in Cannes in 1983. The girl, Hana Sugiura, is simply astonishing. Her performance reveals not only great talent, but also a great directing effort from Okuda.