“To the ends of the earth” in the cinema: Hymn to love – culture

The Japanese TV presenter stands waist-deep in the water and happily waves her arms over her head towards the camera. Here in Lake Aydar in the middle of Uzbekistan, the mythical Bramul, a two-meter tall beast-fish, is said to be circling. Can she catch him?

But nets thrown into the water for shooters only bring the garbage to the surface. The presenter is convinced that she is not lucky. The Uzbek fisherman accompanying them knows better: Bramul doesn’t like women. Then he says something else that the interpreter prefers not to translate.

In Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s To the Ends of the Earth, presenter Yoko (played by Atsuko Maeda, well known in Japan) travels around Uzbekistan with a film crew to film a TV documentary about the country. The film, completed in 2019, was made on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Uzbekistan.

There are no ghosts, but an amazing presence accompanies the heroine of this wonderful film

Approaching the country and its inhabitants, however, turns out to be as difficult as hunting a Bramul, the more so as it is subject to a rigid shooting schedule of the producer. At the restaurant, Yoko has to eat a national dish of meat and rice that is undercooked, but Yoko must find it delicious in front of the camera. At the funfair, he has to undergo a torture cage disguised as an amusement park attraction, which is thrown into the air by a merciless metal arm.

While Kurosawa thus caricatures television exoticism in portraying foreign countries over which Western European broadcasters do not have a monopoly, he takes viewers on a journey. It reaches lakes and mountains through cities such as Samarkand and Tashkent. Kurosawa does not want to draw an authentic picture of a Central Asian country, but rather to come into contact with it with a camera. People being filmed turn around, look at his camera, react to them – as in a documentary.

Kurosawa could have made another movie about the Clash of Cultures. And although there are indications that the customs are different, the producer’s dollars will not solve all problems and you have to talk to understand each other, the film goes in a different direction. Kurosawa is known for his genre work, thrillers, horror and fantasy movies. He is a specialist in ghosts, in supernatural phenomena, which he often gives in his films a stunningly natural (and therefore even more malevolent) presence.

There are no ghosts here, but there is a ghostly presence in the film. There is Yoko’s fiancé, a firefighter from faraway Tokyo, whom we never see and only present via text messages. Added to this is the fact that someone is always looking at you with interest. As if she herself was a supernatural phenomenon.

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The weirdness, however, is mild and exposes fear of strangers as a projection and prejudice, the amused and curious glances of the Uzbeks become a mirror that Yoko casts on herself. Therefore, in this wonderful film, Yoko’s journey leads not only through the outside world, but also beyond the visible, title “ends of the earth”, to her own inner life.

This is especially seen in the Navoi Theater in Tashkent, whose rooms were once established by Japanese soldiers captured by the Soviets during World War II. Here, the boundaries between the inner and outer worlds blur as Yoko watches himself on stage singing “Hymne à l’amour” by Edith Piaf (accompanied by the Uzbek National Orchestra).

The film is worthwhile precisely because of this beautiful scene, which is also the moment of liberation. The TV presenter breaks away from her media image and does what she always wanted: singing. Chanson Piaf becomes the singer’s hymn to herself. The film tells the story of a woman who loses herself in a foreign country in order to regain a bond with herself.

Na krańce świata, Uzbekistan / Japan 2019 – director and script writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Camera: Akiko Ashizawa. Starring Atsuko Maeda, Ryo Kase, Tokyo Emoto. Film Trigon, 120 minutes, Cinema premiere: July 21, 2022.

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