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Alone Across the Pacific (Taiheyo Hitori-Bochi) – The Masters of Cinema Series #69 (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

February 19, 2011 by  



Entertaining! Kon Ichikawa’s “Alone Across the Pacific” is a film based on the real life solo trip made by Kenichi Horie from Japan to San Francisco back in 1962.  While a straightforward and predictable film, its execution of flashbacks, character development and beautiful cinematography made this film enjoyable.  “Alone Across the Pacific” is a different kind of Ichikawa film, but still an upbeat and entertaining film worth watching!

Images courtesy of © 1963 Nikkatsu Corp., Ltd.  2009 Eureka Entertainment Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

DVD TITLE: Alone on the Pacific (Taiheiyo Hitoribocchi)

YEAR OF FILM RELEASE: 1963

DURATION: 97 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: Anamorphic, 2:351 OAR, Progressive Transfer, Region 2,

COMPANY: Eureka!/The Masters of Cinema

RATED: PG

RELEASE DATE: February 23, 2009

Directed by Kon Ichikawa

Story by Kenichi Horie

Written by Natto Wada

Produced by Akira Nakai

Associate Producer: Isao Zeniya

Music by Yasushi Akutagawa, Toru Takemitsu

Cinematography by Yoshihiro Yamazaki

Edited by Masanori Tsujii

Art Direction by So Matsuyama

Starring:

Yujiro Ishihara as the Youth

Masayuki Mori as Youth’s Father

Kinuyo Tanaka as Youth’s Mother

Ruriko Asaoka as Youth’s Sister

Hajime Hana as Youth’s Friend

A powerful hymn to the human spirit, Alone Across the Pacific – by renowned Japanese director Kon Ichikawa (An Actor’s Revenge, The Burmese Harp, Tokyo Olympiad) – tells the extraordinary real-life story of one man’s obsessive quest to break free from the strictures of society.

In 1962, Kenichi Horie (Yujiro Ishihara) embarks on a heroic attempt to sail single-handed across the Pacific Ocean. Leaving Osaka in an ill-prepared vessel – The Mermaid – the young adventurer must overcome the most savage of seas, the psychological torment of cabin fever, and his mental and physical breaking point, if he is ever to reach the fabled destination of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

Using Horie’s best-selling logbook as his source, Ichikawa portrays the epic struggle of man against nature. ‘Scope cinematography – with Horie isolated in the oceanic expanse of the frame – and a score by celebrated composer Toru Takemitsu, add to the drama of a film for which Ichikawa received a Golden Globe nomination, among other accolades. The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present Alone Across the Pacific for home viewing in the UK for the very first time.

In 1962, a yachtsman named Kenichi Horie rose to prominence when he illegally sailed across the Pacific Ocean from Nishinomiya, Japan to San Francisco, California.

It was a different time back in 1962 as postwar-Japan had strict rules on its citizens sailing but for three months, but no Japanese has attempted to sail that far but for Horie, it was an obsession, a goal that he had to make happen.  So, Horie braved bad ocean conditions with no passport, not much money and eventually arrived in the United States where he was arrested. But because of the extraordinary feat. which Horie accomplished, he was given a 30-day Visa and awarded a key to the city by the mayor of San Francisco.

Since then, Horie has continued to sale the seas solo in boats that are environmentally friendly, which included a recent 2008 trip in a wave energy-based boat from Hawaii to Japan.

But back in 1962, what Horie accomplished was not only news in America, also in Japan as people were shocked of what he did.  Horie wrote a book titled “Taiheyo Hitori-Bochi” (Alone Across the Pacific) and a year later, the book was adapted into a film by Natto Wada (“Fires on the Plain”, “The Burmese Harp”, “Tokyo Olympiad”) and directed by multi-award winning director Kon Ichikawa (Fires on the Plain”, “The Burmese Harp”, “Otouto”, “Kagi”).  The film marks the first and only collaboration between Ichikawa and cinematographer Yoshihiro Yamazaki  (“A Promise”, “Women Who Do Not Divorce”).

“Alone Across the Pacific” revolves around a youth (played by enka singer and actor Yujiro Ishihara) who is determined to sail the seas from Japan to America illegally.

The youth has worked for his father (played by Masayuki Mori, “Rashomon”, “Ugetsu”, “The Bad Sleep Well”) to save money for the parts needed to build a yacht.  For the youth, he has no interested in college, nor is he driven to have a full-time career.  His  only goal is to travel from Japan to the U.S. and all his family and friends think he’s crazy.

While we watch the youth travel and confront various weather conditions as he is on his way to the U.S., we are greeted with flashbacks of the youth as he confront his father, his worrying mother (played by Kinuyo Tanaka, “Ugetsu”, “Sansho the Bailiff”, “The Life of Oharu”) and his sister (played by Ruriko Asaoka, “Goyokin”, “Toubou”).  His mother worries that he will get arrested or something bad will happen, but no matter what she says, the youth is determined to make his dream a reality.

Even his friend (played by Yujiro Ishihara) tries to dissuade him but everyone knows that the youth is driven by his ambition to sail from Japan to America that there is no stopping him.

For the youth, he is a rebel towards Japanese society and eagerly waits to get away from the growing metropolis, business of the city.  But will the stubborn youth discover something new throughout his difficult journey, especially when he does reach America?

VIDEO & AUDIO:

“Alone Across the Pacific” marks the first time a Japanese film was shot in America and also marks the first and only collaboration between director Kon Ichikawa and cinematographer Yoshihiro Yamazaki.

The film was shot in Hawaii and San Francisco but also out on sea and while, I’m not too sure how much Nikkatsu put into the visual effects at that time and what was shot out in sea, Yamazaki was able to obtain the effect of a man in solitary, a man who is lonely and capturing the anguish he feels out on sea alone.

The film which is presented in 2:35:1 (original aspect ratio) still looks great for a film that is nearly 50-years-old and the Masters of Cinema did a fantastic job with this new high definition transfer.  There is a sort of softness when it comes to the overall picture quality but considering so many classic Japanese films in color that are laden with dust and scratches, the fact that this film looks very good on DVD is a major plus for me.

As for audio, audio is presented in Dolby Digital monaural.  Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Alone Across the Pacific – The Masters of Cinema Series #69″comes with the following special features:

  • Japanese Trailer – (3:42) Featuring the original Japanese theatrical trailer.
  • Teaser #1 – (2:46) The first theatrical teaser of how “Alone Across the Pacific” was the first Japanese film shot in America.
  • Teaser #2 – (1:38) Featuring the second theatrical teaser for “Alone Across the Pacific”.

EXTRAS:

“Alone Across the Pacific” comes with a 24-page booklet featuring an article “Escaping Japan: The Quest in Ichikawa Kon’s Taiheyo Hitori-Bochi” by Brent Kliewer which was published in the Cinematheque Ontario in 2001.  Plus a reproduction of the original Japanese poster and archival publicity stills.

“Alone Across the Pacific” could have been a clean-cut film and made the character of an ordinary yachtsman traveling the high seas to the United States, and literally making him a hero.

But with Kon Ichikawa films, his characters are never that clean-cut, nor are they shown as perfect individuals.  Natto Wada does another fantastic job of fleshing out the script in providing us an interest and entertaining character narrative for the character of the young man.  The portrayal of the 23-year-old shows a young man against the current trend of Japan.  To be a hardworking person, who goes to college, listens to his family and take on a career or to inherit the family business.  But the youth is a rebel and this is what makes “Alone Across the Pacific” an ideal Nikkatsu film.

Whereas many Nikkatsu-related films on young rebelliousness can be seen in many of their films, what makes “Alone Across the Pacific” satisfying is that there is no society to rebel against in the film.  The young man’s rebelliousness is against his family and by showing it by pursuing his obsession of traveling across the Pacific Ocean.

The young man feels the isolation of riding 92 days in his yacht, braving dangers and realizing that his life can end anytime.  His memories of his family, his dog are all he has and because of the water that enters his ship, he starts to lose any comfort and is left with himself.  Talking to himself, remembering moments he had with his family and coming to a full realization of what mattered more to him when he does reach his goal and arrive in America.

As for the DVD, while not heavy on special features, you do get the two teaser trailers and the theatrical trailer plus the 24-page book.  The 24-page book really goes into detail on the talent and Brent Kliewer’s thoughts about the film.  But the truth is that many Japanese filmmakers aside from Akira Kurosawa, have films that have not been easily accessible to International viewers and “Alone Across the Pacific” is one of those films.  So, for us to have the chance to see his films courtesy of the Masters of Cinema and with a solid presentation in quality is fantastic!

“Alone Across the Pacific” is definitely a film that one can find entertaining and fun in contrast to “Fires on the Plain”, “Kokoro” and “The Burmese Harp”.  And even when compared to Ichikawa’s later works such as “The Makioka Sisters” and “47 Ronin”, “Alone Across the Pacific” is a film that manages to have creativity due to the tight cinematography and making the viewers feel that isolation and tightness of the area.  That there is nothing but that yacht and endless ocean.  The cinematography manages to capture that feeling of the young man, being alone, quite well.

But what I felt was important to the film was its flashbacks.  These flashbacks give depth to the character and in my take, shows that even through the challenges that this man goes through, how he was before, is how he will be after.  For some people, standing in the frontline of death can definitely change ones perspective towards life and one’s habits, but not everyone and in this case, considering the character is based on Kenichi Horie and Horie is still doing this nearly 50-years after he made his first solo trip, we can realize that this is his dream and he’s living it.  In many ways, it goes against traditional Japanese and traditional Japanese ways of doing things.

Granted, the film is quite predictable but I still found “Across the Pacific” quite entertaining.  It may not be the best film from Kon Ichikawa but it still manages to contain the elements of character building that his films are known for.

If you enjoyed Kon Ichikawa films in the past and want something different and more upbeat, definitely give “Alone Across the Pacific” a chance!







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