Busan Film Review: ‘To the Ends of the Earth’

Variety | 10/9/2019 | Jessica Kiang
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“To the Ends of the Earth,” the story of a young Japanese journalist’s experiences in Uzbekistan filming a report for a Japanese TV travel show, was originally commissioned to celebrate 25 years of cordial diplomatic relations between director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s hyper-developed island homeland and the less affluent, landlocked Central Asian nation. As such we might have expected a straightforwardly celebratory, mildly quirky travelogue, but Kurosawa’s discreetly offbeat approach makes it much more rewarding and, in its way, revealing than that: an insightful and ambivalent interrogation of the strange and often compromised experience that is cultural tourism in the mass media age.

A great deal of Kurosawa’s recent output has been disappointingly wan, blending thinly plotted sci-fi or melodrama with stock elements of the J-horror genre he quietly, creepily revolutionized in the late ’90s and early aughts in films like “Pulse” and “Cure.” But in the most surprising place — the rural Uzbek mountains and lakes, the bazaars and alleyways of Tashkent and Samarkand — he has found rejuvenation, a thematic space in which his uncommon delicacy and floaty subjectivity can thrive without watering down the subject matter.

Role - Reporter - Yoko - J-popstar-turned-actress - Atusko

The central role of the intrepid but naive reporter Yoko is appealingly played by J-popstar-turned-actress Atusko Maeda, who starred in Kurosawa’s 2017 alien invasion bauble “Before We Vanish” as well as his 2013 mystery thriller “Seventh Code.” Although neglectfully treated to the point of abuse by her jaded director, Yoshi (ubiquitous Japanese actor Shota Sometani, who may someday play a likable character, but today is not that day), Yoko is nothing if not plucky, gamely wading about waist-deep in search of a possibly mythical fish; eating an undercooked local delicacy and pretending it’s delicious; and riding for take after take on a rickety-looking fun-fair ride until she throws up.

The experienced cameraman Iwao (Ryo Kase) and...
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