Writer-director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s To the Ends of the Earth follows Yoko (Atsuko Maeda), the host of a variety series and something of a lab rat for its producers, as she travels to Uzbekistan to record a new episode for the show. Imagine that once-popular reality series, in which contestants confronted their superficial fears on television for all to see, instead putting its own host through the wringer. Now imagine a delicate drama about the host questioning their duties to the show and their own insulated lifestyle upon exposure to the outside world. That’s the best way to describe the new movie from Kurosawa, a seasoned veteran of horror cinema making quite the creative left turn.

There is no hint of horror in this tale, though there is a significant deal of interpersonal and sociological tension upon Yoko’s arrival in the Central Asian republic alongside producer Yoshioka (Shôta Sometani) and cameraman Iwao (Ryô Kase). Their goal is to film a mythical fish that is rumored to be located somewhere in Lake Aydarkul, the largest freshwater lake in the region. Things aren’t looking good, especially because the Uzbek coordinators, including Temur (Adiz Rajabov), are condescending jackasses and dismissive of the idea of a woman hosting a television program.

While the host and crew wait out the unlikely appearance of the Loch Ness Monster-type creature from the deep, they put Yoko through the motions of other strange adventures – tasting a local dish that has been intentionally and bitterly underprepared by an annoyed chef, riding on a rollercoaster ad nauseum and, quite literally (until the point of nausea to capture the shot) letting her wander aimlessly through some kind of convention center with a handheld camera. That last one gets her into hot water with local law enforcement when she happens upon a building where no trespassing is allowed.

There is a lazy, if intoxicating, energy at play here, rarely ever at the behest of melodramatic (or even, until a turn late in the film, dramatic) incident. It can settle into something of a formula, with a story, such as it is, as much about the act of waiting as it is about the thing for which the protagonist waits. Crucially, we are allowed something of a window into Yoko’s mind in the interim, as she tours an art museum, only to come upon an opera singer performing on a stage before turning into a copy of Yoko herself as she performs an Edith Piaf number, and learns of a horrific fire to which her boyfriend, a firefighter back home, is likely to respond.

These wanderings certainly have a point, in that Yoko is discovering that she no longer feels comfortable with her occupation and has ambitions outside of them (signified quite touchingly with her attempt to free a captive goat – much to the chagrin of the producers). Maeda’s performance is an intentionally distancing one at first, revealing layers as the story unfolds, and finally exploding in catharsis. The major question mark of To the Ends of the Earth is whether the catharsis is earned.

Summary
The major question mark of this film is whether the catharsis is earned.
60 %
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