Review by Camden Ferrell
To the Ends of the Earth is the newest film from writer/director Kyoshi Kurosawa. This film played at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival as well as several other festivals. While the film’s attempts at being a contemplative journey are pronounced, it often finds itself in tonally and structurally inconsistent territory.
Yoko is a Japanese host of a travel show. She is dedicated to her work, and it has brought her on a trip to Uzbekistan. In this foreign land, we watch as she adapts and explores the area with a caution that accompanies her introverted nature. The premise isn’t anything miraculous, but this allows the perfect opportunity to properly explore a character’s nature, their desires, and their fears. Unfortunately, the exploration ends up being tepid in comparison to what it could have been.
The script is minimal, and it evokes characteristics of realism more than anything. It’s not flashy or cinematic dialogue, but it creates a lot of space for characters to interact by other means. What is being said isn’t always of the utmost importance, but it’s more important to observe actions and reactions. Kurosawa understands that to explore his protagonist, he doesn’t need to confound the narrative with unnecessary dialogue.
The acting in this film is mostly forgettable save for the remarkable lead performance from Atsuko Maeda. She is joyous and optimistic on camera, and she is cautious and shy off camera. It’s a balancing act that Maeda does very well. Her performance is the best aspect of this movie, and it can sometimes elevate some lackluster moments throughout the film.
The main problem with the film comes from how unevenly paced the film can be at times. While it was designed to be a slow and meditative piece, it often meanders too much for its own good. It’s a balancing act that the film never really perfects, and the final product suffers as a result.
The film isn’t bad, but it is underwhelming. It clocks in at around two hours, and it never truly warrants it. It doesn’t do enough to examine the nature of the protagonists and the deep personal struggles she faces from being a fish out of water in a country that is unfamiliar to her. Some of these ideas are presented, but they’re not fully developed.
There are a handful of great moments throughout. It’s interesting to watch Yoko on the job and to see how her media personality constantly covers up her discomfort in these situations. There are also two instances in which we see Yoko singing a cover of Hymne a L’Amour by Edith Piaf that is actually quite beautiful.
Overall, this is a noble attempt at personal meditation through the eyes of a woman who is out of place in a new country. Unfortunately, its execution isn’t fully developed, and it leaves the viewer with something to be desired.
To the Ends of the Earth opens December 11 as a part of The Metrograph virtual cinema and in nationwide virtual cinemas on December 18. (A list of participating theaters can be found here.)