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December 11, 2020

To the Ends of the Earth

to the ends of the earth.jpg

Tabi no Owari Sekai no Hajimari
Kyoshi Kurosawa - 2019

For those who have been following Kiyoshi Kurosawa's career, The the Ends of the Earth is in many ways an anomaly. While there are some brief moments of dread, this is not a horror film. The closest the film comes to anything considered apocalyptic is with a scene of a large industrial fire in far away Tokyo, seen on television news. The narrative, such as it is, is episodic, with no mysteries to unravel or dramatic resolution. The conditions for making the film are unusual in that Kurosawa took on the task of making a film that was to commemorate twenty-five years of diplomatic relations between Japan and Uzbekistan, and the seventieth anniversary of the Navoi Theater in Tashkent, partially built by Japanese prisoners of war.

A small Japanese film crew has gone to Uzbekistan to provide something like a tourist's view of the country. An attempt to film a legendary two meter long fish comes up empty, with an Uzbek fisherman complaining that the presence of the young female reporter has kept the fish away. The reporter, Yoko, has her own misadventures, traveling on her own in Samarkand and Tashkent. Both times, she gets lost walking through what appear to be maze-like streets, the proverbial stranger in a strange land. As it turns out, Yoko's fears are entirely her own. There are some semi-comic moments as with Yoko gamely allowing herself to be filmed three times on a small amusement park ride that seems more fit for astronaut or test pilot training. The crew becomes desperate to find the kind of subjects of interest for an audience that most likely never ventures far from their own neighborhood.

Kurosawa breaks from reality first when Yoko imagines herself singing Edith Piaf's "Hymn de l'amour" at the Navoi Theater, reprising the song at the end, in an ending that recalls classic musicals. In it's roundabout way, the film is about Yoko coming to terms with herself regarding her own aspirations, as well as learning how to navigate through cultural and language barriers.

I am not sure how close Google's translation of the title is, but I got "The End of the Trip, the Beginning of the Trip". The concept of a physical journey in some way mirroring an internal journey is in itself not original, but that seems to be what is conveyed by the Japanese title. The English language title comes from the Edith Piaf song, written after the death of her lover, French boxer Marcel Cerdan, died in a plane crash. Uzbekistan is still a relatively remote and unknown country as well. Kurosawa has commented on how he changed his screenplay as the country he was filming in was different than the country he imagined.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 11, 2020 07:22 AM