Despite the fascinating landscapes that are explored by its main characters, the prevailing mood of “To the Ends of the Earth”, written and staged by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, is one of disappointment.
Atsuko Maeda plays Yoko, a young woman who runs a Japanese travel program. Yoko is irrevocably cheeky for the camera and quiet and dejected between shots. You and a small all-male crew are filming in Uzbekistan. She wades into Lake Aydar and describes its origins before getting on a boat to try to catch a mysterious large fish called “Bramul”. The grumpy Uzbek fisherman she is paired with that he will not be able to catch the fish if a woman is present.
The show’s grumpy director Yoshioka (Shota Sometani) almost always disapproves of Yoko’s ideas for segments as “not good television.” When she shares her ambitions to become a singer with the sympathetic cameraman Iwao (Ryo Kase, recently seen in “Hill of Freedom”), he tells her that she will forget these wishes in time.
Yoko remains a game and does several takes of taking an unsafe looking ride in the least fun looking “fun park” in the world. She worries about her friend, a firefighter in Tokyo Bay. And she’s going into business for herself and looking for something she’s not even sure of. She finds a little of it in Tashkent’s Navoi Theater, which was partly built by Japanese prisoners of war in the 1940s.
Kurosawa is best known in the USA for his idiosyncratic horror pictures (“Pulse”, “Creepy” and others). However, this is a relatively calm, sensitive portrayal of intercultural exchange and confusion and of a woman looking for a place that is alien to her. Kurosawa’s mastery of film form gives the film an all-round magnetism despite its seemingly thin plot.
To the ends of the earth
Not rated. In Japanese and Uzbek with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours. Check out Metrograph’s virtual cinema starting December 11th.