To the Ends of the Earth (2019)

The banality of cultural tourism as variety show is poetically expressed in the hands of Kiyoshi Kurosawa as a Japanese crew travel to Uzbekistan for work—it also features an underrated performance by ex-AKB48 J-pop star Atsuko Maeda.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,049

Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa
2019 | Japan/Uzbekistan | Drama | 120 mins | 2.39:1 | Japanese & Uzbek
PG (passed clean)

Cast: Atsuko Maeda, Shota Sometani, Tokio Emoto, Adiz Rajabov, Ryo Kase
Plot: A young Japanese woman named Yoko who finds her cautious and insular nature tested when she travels to Uzbekistan to shoot the latest episode of her travel variety show.
Awards: Nom. for Variety Piazza Grande Award (Locarno)

International Sales: Free Stone Productions (SG: Anticipate Pictures)

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Culture, Travel, Finding Oneself
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Screener
Spoilers: No


I think I’ve found one of my favourite performances of the year so far (though this is technically a 2019 film). 

Ex-AKB48 J-pop star Atsuko Maeda gives an underrated performance as Yoko, a variety show host who tags along with her Japanese crew to the faraway region of Uzbekistan to shoot an episode of her travel show. 

She’s a fish out of the water, struggling to adapt to a new culture and environment, but as a professional, she puts on her happiest smile and cheeriest personality whenever she’s thrust in front of the camera. 

Off-camera, she’s just glum, wanting to be alone, or perhaps dreaming to be independent as a few extended segments featuring her attempts to solitarily explore the city might attest. 

Most of the time, she scurries around like a frightened kitty until she sets foot back in the temporary haven that is her hotel room. 

Kiyoshi Kurosawa directs everything with a gentle touch, and in his hands, the banality of cultural tourism is poetically expressed, particularly when it is set against Yoko’s ‘adventurous’ exploits. 

One of the recurring issues that the crew faces is the lack of exciting material to shoot or things not going according to plan, so it must be ironic that Kurosawa finds dramatic impetus in Yoko’s spontaneous experiences, where tension is exuded from her wariness towards the Uzbeks that cross her path. 

There are beautiful, surreal moments when the travelogue drama turns into a quasi-musical; by the time Yoko is able to be at ease with herself, To the Ends of the Earth would also find a warm and tender heart at its centre. 

Grade: B+


Trailer:

Music:

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