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Movie Review by Alice Castle

Starring: Arata, Yusuke Iseya, Susumu Terajima, Yui Natsukawa, Tadanobu Asano, Azusa
Director: Hirokazu Koreeda

When the sarin gas attack took place on the Tokyo subway in 1995, the Japanese thought the sky was about to fall in on their heads. The attack followed bad harvests and the Kobe earthquake – the fact that the Japanese have always been very good about sticking together in times of crisis, made the realisation that there was a subversive element in their midst even more shocking than if it had happened anywhere else. Rooting out Aum Shinrikyo and its blind mystic leader Asahara Shoko became a national obsession in what had become a spiritual vacuum.

Koreeda’s DISTANCE focuses not on the gas attack but on a fictional event, which was also planned by the Aum Shinrikyo cult, but never carried out. Reservoirs were poisoned with the result that over a hundred people died. The film begins with a radio announcement that it’s the third anniversary since the poisoning and we find four young people making preparations to visit the site. The three men and a woman, are unconnected in their everyday lives, but once a year they return to the reservoir, not because their relatives died in the attack, but because they were directly related to the perpetrators.

DISTANCE seems to refer to the way the four have managed to adapt themselves to a sort of normality over three years. In Japan it is so important to conform, the relatives would be shunned if they were to tell friends or acquaintances about their past – so it is only in this context of the annual visit to the site that they can talk about their relatives. On this the third anniversary, the group meet a young man at the reservoir, a former cult member also paying his respects to the dead. When their car is stolen they find themselves in the middle of the forest without shelter and are forced to follow the young man to the house where the cult members lived before the attack. There they spend a long, cold night facing their memories of their departed relatives.

Slow but full of atmosphere, this film seems to be dedicated to all the people who have lost a relative to the Branch Davidians, Aum Shinrikyo, the Moonies or any of the numerous cults and fundamentalist religions around the world.

4 out of 6 stars