To the Ends of the Earth (2019)
I couldn’t resist another film by my new favourite director, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, care of my Mubi subscription. Knowing a film I fancy is going to disappear in a few days makes me create the time to watch it. It’s an interesting way to beat the paralysis of too much choice. I’d read that Kurosawa was an eclectic director, and this film proves that. Even though there are a couple of scenes that play on Yoko’s fears, it is mostly gentle, amusing and sad.
Atsuko Maeda’s Yoko is a mesmerising presence. She is a reporter for a Japanese travel programme that is making an episode in Uzbekistan. The crew keep their distance from her, making her do ridiculous, unpleasant things, like riding a violently spinning fairground ride over and over again, so they can get the right camera shot, and pressuring her to eat a rice dish from a street vendor even though it is not fully cooked. She is a trooper and does everything she is asked. But once the filming is finished, she goes on mini adventures, getting lost in the streets of whichever town she is in. Her job is unfulfilling, and she feels adrift.
Where Japan is surrounded by water, Uzbekistan is landlocked, and the crew’s translator, Temur, tells Yoko that he is envious of her living near the sea. He sees it as freedom, but for her it is dangerous. She is a fearful person, and Kurosawa makes her everyday experiences in Uzbekistan feel threatening. Slowly she realises her fear causes more trouble than it is worth.