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'Dream come true' with director Zhang Yimou
Updated: 2005-10-24 14:14

Chinese director Zhang Yimou was in his late 20s when he saw Ken Takakura take on Japanese mobsters on the big screen, a performance that helped inspire him to quit his cotton factory job and join film school.

Japanese movie star Ken Takakura (R) poses with Chinese film director Zhang Yimou (L) as they walk on the red carpet for the opening ceremony of the 18th Tokyo International Film Festival. [AFP]

Almost three decades, several box office hits and two Oscar nominations later, Zhang says his dream finally came true when he directed the Japanese actor in his new movie, which premiered at the Tokyo Film Festival this weekend.

The film, "Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles", follows the journey of a Japanese fisherman and his dying son as they travel to China in search of the secret behind a local opera.

"I created this film to make my dream come true," the 54-year-old director told reporters ahead of the world premiere of the movie, which opened the festival on Saturday.

"I was so impressed by Mr. Takakura's unique style of solitude and quietness when I saw his film 'Kimiyo Fundo no Kawa o Watare' (Cross the River with Anger) 30 years ago, before I entered a film school in Beijing," he said.

In the film Takakura played a prosecutor accused of a crime he did not commit who travels the length and breadth of Japan chasing the truth and trying to track down the leader of a crime syndicate plaguing the country.

The film was shown in China in the late 1970s after the Cultural Revolution and was a huge instant success throughout the nation.

Takakura, known for his brooding style and tough-guy persona, has been nicknamed the " Clint Eastwood" of Japan for his roles in 1960s gangster movies on the Yakuza crime syndicate.

Zhang recalls how at the Beijing Film Academy he and his fellow students would even try to dress like Takakura, and he says he created his latest work around the actor.

"I wanted to realize Mr. Takakura's acting style in my film by limiting his lines to keep his image as my idol," he said.

Takakura, one of the best known actors in Japan, has played in 204 films and won international recognition after starring in the 1975 Sydney Pollack hit "The Yakuza" and in Ridley Scott's 1989 work "Black Rain".

While he has slowed down in recent years, the 74-year-old says he jumped at the chance to work with Zhang, whose works "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers" were both nominated for best foreign film Oscars.

"The next year marks 50 years of my acting career. I am truly happy to be able to work with a wonderful director and staff members," Takakura said. "I think because of working hard, God gave me this kind of bonus."

Takakura, reflecting on the cultural experience of shooting the film, said he was impressed by the strong willingness of the Chinese workers in the production to convey their thoughts to others.

"What I felt during the two months was that Japanese have forgotten the importance of conveying feelings and thoughts 60 years after the (Second World) War ended," he said.

Zhang, whose "Raise the Red Lantern" (1991) received the Silver Lion in Venice and whose "The Road Home" (1999) won the Silver Bear in Berlin, also heads a jury for the competition section of the 18th Tokyo Film Festival.

The nine-day event has a strong Asian flavor this year, with works from nations including Japan, China and South Korea among those lining up for a total of six awards, including the 100,000-dollar Tokyo Grand Prix.

Closing the event will be "Rikidozan" by South Korean director Song Hae-seong, based on the true story of the eponymous pro-wrestler who becomes a national hero in Japan in the aftermath of World War II.

The protagonist struggles with inner emotional turmoil as he tries to keep his Korean origins a secret and gets caught up in the murky world of the Japanese mob.

"Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles" will go on release in China in December and in Japan in January next year.

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