Despite the fascinating landscapes explored by its central characters, the prevailing mood of “To the Ends of the Earth,” written and directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, is that of disappointment.
Atsuko Maeda plays Yoko, a young woman who hosts a Japanese travel program. Irrepressibly perky for the camera, Yoko is quiet and downbeat in between setups. She and a small all-male crew are shooting in Uzbekistan; she wades into Aydar Lake and describes its origin before getting into a boat to try to catch a mysterious large fish called a “bramul.” The surly Uzbek fisherman she’s paired with grouses that he can’t catch the fish if a woman is present.
The show’s sulky director, Yoshioka (Shota Sometani), almost invariably rejects Yoko’s ideas for segments as “not good TV.” When she shares with the sympathetic cameraman Iwao (Ryo Kase, recently seen in “Hill of Freedom”) her ambitions to become a singer, he tells her that she will forget these desires in time.
Yoko remains game, doing multiple takes in which she goes on an unsafe-looking ride in the world’s least fun-looking “fun park.” She worries about her boyfriend, a firefighter in Tokyo Bay. And she strikes out on her own, seeking something not even she’s sure of. She finds a little of it in Tashkent’s Navoi Theater — which was partly built by Japanese prisoners of war during the 1940s.
Kurosawa is best known in the United States for his idiosyncratic horror pictures (“Pulse,” “Creepy,” and others). This, though, is a relatively quiet, sensitive portrayal of cross-cultural exchange and confusion, and a woman looking for herself in a place that’s strange to her. Kurosawa’s command of film form gives the movie an embracing magnetism despite its seeming thinness of plot.
To the Ends of the Earth
Not rated. In Japanese and Uzbek, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours. Watch through Metrograph’s virtual cinema beginning Dec. 11.
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