The Japanese TV presenter is standing deep in the water and happily waving her hands above her head for the camera. Here, in Lake Aydar in central Uzbekistan, a two-meter-tall fish monster, the legendary Pramol, is said to roam. Will you be able to catch him?
But the nets thrown into the water for the shooting team only bring trash to the surface. The announcer is convinced that she has lost her luck. The Uzbek fisherman who accompanies them knows better: bramols do not like women. Then it says something else that the compiler would prefer not to translate.
In Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s “To the End of the Earth,” host Yoko (played by Atsuko Maeda, better known in Japan) travels through Uzbekistan with a camera crew to film a TV documentary about the country. The film, completed in 2019, was produced to mark the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Uzbekistan.
There are no ghosts, but a strange presence accompanies the heroine of this wonderful movie
However, getting close to the country and its people is as challenging as searching for a Bramul, especially since it is still subject to a strict product shooting schedule. In the restaurant, Yoko has to eat a national dish consisting of meat and rice, which is undercooked but must be found delicious by Yoko in front of the camera. In the amusement park, she has to surrender to a torture cage disguised in a fairground costume, which is thrown into the air by a ruthless metal arm.
As Kurosawa draws cartoons of television eccentricities depicting foreign countries in this way, which Western European broadcasters do not have a monopoly on, he takes his audience on a journey. He goes to the lakes and mountains, through cities such as Samarkand and Tashkent. Kurosawa does not want to draw an original picture of Central Asia, but rather wants it with a camera. The people filmed turn around, look back at his camera, and interact with them – like in a documentary.
Kurosawa could have made another movie about the clash of cultures. And while there are hints that habits are different, product dollars can’t solve all problems and you have to talk to understand each other, the movie goes in a different direction. Kurosawa is known for his literary work, thrillers, horror, and fantasy films. He specializes in ghosts, the supernatural, which he often lends a puzzling (and therefore more sinister) natural presence in his films.
There are no ghosts here, but there is a strange presence that accompanies the film. There’s Yoko’s fiancé, a firefighter in faraway Tokyo we never see and only exists through text messages. Then there is the phenomenon that there is always someone looking at you with interest. As if she herself was a supernatural phenomenon.
SZ Editors enriched this article with content from YouTube
Download content now
However, the stranger is gentle, exposing the fear of the alien as a projection and prejudice, the amusing and curious looks of the Uzbeks become a mirror that Yoko throws at himself. Which is why Yoko’s journey in this fantastic film leads not only through the outside world, but also, beyond the “ends of the earth” visible from the title, into her inner life.
This is especially evident in the Navoi Theater in Tashkent, whose rooms were created by Japanese soldiers captured by the Soviets during World War II. Here, the boundary between the inner world and the outer world blurs when Yoko watches herself on stage singing Edith Piaf’s “Hymn Lamour” (accompanied by the Uzbek National Orchestra).
The movie is only worth it because of this beautiful scene, which is also a self-liberating moment. The TV presenter is stepping away from her media image and doing what she’s always wanted: singing. Chanson Piaf became the singer’s hymn to himself, and the film follows a woman who loses herself in a foreign country in order to reconnect with herself.
To the End of the Earth, Uzbekistan / Japan 2019 – Directed and written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Camera: Akiko Ashizawa. Starring Atsuko Maeda, Ryo Kase, Tokyo Emoto. Trigon movie, 120 min. Theatrical release: July 21, 2022.