To the Ends of the Earth (2020; Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
By Daniel Barnes
*Now playing in select cinemas and opening tomorrow in virtual theaters.
Atsuko Maeda plays a Japanese TV host struggling with her latest assignment in this lightly surrealist spin on Lost in Translation. But despite Maeda’s touching lead performance, the film often feels unfocused and disaffected, like a center without a circle.
“Our customs aren’t like yours.”
Maeda’s Yoko is on assignment in Uzbekistan to shoot the latest episode of her upbeat travel series, but we instantly sense her depression and disconnection. Kurosawa (no relation to Akira) makes us feel her powerlessness, both as a timid woman working with an all-male crew and a stranger in a strange land. He even heightens her detachment by only subtitling the Japanese characters and not any of the Uzbeks.
A similar use of subtitles in Isle of Dogs inspired scads of vapid jeremiads, but I wager that no such fate awaits this film. Overall, I liked the Kurosawa’s arch but melancholy touch in To the Ends of the Earth. He gets comedic mileage out of sequences like the one where Yoko has to ride the same horrifying amusement park rust-bucket again and again. Best of all, he does it not by forcing comedy crescendos but by letting us experience her TV-ready terror in real-time.
“Fish abhor a woman’s scent.”
Unfortunately, aside from Maeda’s multifaceted lead performance and a few compelling sequences, the film feels somewhat lightweight. Kurosawa’s dream-like structure is unique, but there’s nothing particularly original or exciting about the idea of a TV host ill-suited to their work. Meanwhile, a storyline about a mysterious fish never bears fruit, and a late attempt to wedge in emotional conflict only makes the film seem less substantial.