To the Ends of the Earth 旅のおわり世界のはじまり (2019) Dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

To the Ends of the Earth        To the Ends of the Earth Film Poster

旅のおわり世界のはじまり  「Tabi no Owari Sekai no Hajimari」

Release Date: June 14th, 2019

Duration: 120 mins.

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Screenplay),

Starring: Atsuko Maeda, Ryo Kase, Shota Sometani, Tokio Emoto, Adiz Rajabov,

Website     IMDB

To the Ends of the Earth is an international co-production that was commissioned to commemorate 25 years of diplomatic relations between Japan and Uzbekistan. It’s written and directed by horror auteur Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who eschews using serial killers and ghosts as sources of fear and turns to tourism as he makes a moving travelogue-cum-character study of an introverted young woman overcoming anxieties in an alien environment and coming to understand herself better.

We follow Yoko (Atsuko Maeda), the young host of a Japanese TV show who is on assignment in Uzbekistan with a small crew (played by Shota Sometani, Ryo Kase, Tokio Emoto, Adiz Rajabov) as they seek out interesting places to go and exciting things to do. Rather than the glamour and fun of the finished product, we witness a light satire surrounding the drudgery of a production where nothing quite works out. A mythical fish is a no-show at a mountain lake, food is undercooked in a culinary section, and, in one wince-inducing bit, Yoko boards a seemingly innocuous ride at a theme park only to end up being tossed around like a rag doll. Throughout it all she shows professionalism by following her director’s orders and hosting everything with a grin (or gritted teeth when it comes to the ride) but as the assignment grinds on, we see her positive façade fade and her authentic side emerge.

There is considerable downtime between filming and Kurosawa emphasises these moments in his narrative to show that the real Yoko is more introspective than her onscreen personality lets on. She often opts to eat alone and skips production meetings to stay in her hotel room so she can spend time messaging her boyfriend in Tokyo for comfort. Her anxieties are most pointedly felt when she goes on solo daytime jaunts. Alone and with just a map and a few words of English to communicate, a trip to somewhere like Chorsu Bazaar becomes nightmarish as she loses confidence in herself, finds crowds of hagglers harrowing and gets lost in back streets because she is too intimidated by the locals to ask for help. To build the intensity of panic to match the increasing tension Yoko feels, Kurosawa uses techniques familiar from his horror repertoire, transitioning from touristic locations to uninviting urban areas shaded by fluctuating light, menacing shadows, and scary sounds, while he also refrains from subtitling Uzbek dialogue to reflect Yoko’s incomprehension as well as to make circumstances opaque for the audience. 

Yoko’s alienation and distress is conveyed so well in these sequences that they will ring true to anyone who has travelled and felt the buzz of tension and shrivelling of the heart that comes with encountering and shrinking from the unknown. However, after these tumultuous situations, we see Yoko develop as she reflects upon her angst and it is tourism that allows her to push past her fears.

During her wanderings she often encounters something or someone that teaches her to move forward with these sequences skilfully allowing her journey, her dreamlife and Uzbekistan to intersect. The most impactful moment, and the turning point in the film, comes when Yoko is drawn to explore the Navoi theatre in Tashkent by the sound of a woman singing. Tracking shots follow her journey through ornate rooms beautifully decorated in the style of different regions of Uzbekistan until there is a seamless segue to fantasy as she reaches a stage and suddenly bursts out with the Edith Piaf song Hymne à l’Amour (愛の讃歌) while accompanied by an orchestra. This display of confidence runs counter to our impressions of her true nature and reveals her dream that surpasses presenting travel shows. Her ability to bridge the gap between dream and reality soon comes after as she learns that the theatre was built by Japanese POWs after World War II and seems to relate to their story of finding release from fear through dedicating themselves to art. This message is reinforced when she takes the time to have a frank conversation with her taciturn cameraman who reveals his own career dilemmas and offers philosophical advice amounting to the journey is just as important as the destination. It is an honest and insightful look at how people can grow from experiences. While the remainder of the film is dedicated to Yoko struggling to master herself and still making mistakes, a growing understanding of herself allows her character arc to have a positive trajectory. 

To the Ends of the Earth Image Yoko (Atsuko Maeda) with a Camera

None of this would work if ex-AKB48 idol Atsuko Maeda wasn’t a good actor and she gives a compelling performance here. This is her third film with Kurosawa following the offbeat thriller Seventh Code (2013) and alien invasion drama Before We Vanish (2017) and it is her most complex role to date. Kurosawa keeps the camera focussed on her and she reveals how much she has grown as a performer as she displays a sensitivity and vulnerability that guarantees audience empathy that keeps us riveted as we watch her stumble through various Uzbek locations to stride towards an uplifting conclusion that sees her achieve some self-realisation after which she can belt out a full rendition of Hymne à l’Amour with a dazzling shine of confidence that caps her character’s journey. It’s said that travel helps people find themselves and it turns out to be true here.

My review was first published over at V-Cinema on December 03rd.

Happy New Year to everyone. I hope 2021 is the year we can master ourselves and improve the world.

Genkina hito’s Top Fourteen Films of 2020

祖谷物語 おくのひと Rina Takeda

Wow, I had no idea that 2020 would turn out like this when I wrote last year’s end post. We’re a few days away from the end of what has been a plague year. I almost got caught out at the start when I was in Japan and the borders were going to be closed, back at the end of March, but I escaped with the help of some friends. Since then, I have been in work on reduced duties or at home waiting to be called in for odd jobs. When not working, I was doing shopping with my mother and checking in on my grandmother.

During this time of waiting, I watched a lot of films, some as part of the Osaka Asian Film Festival, Nippon Connection, Japan Cuts and the New York Asian Film Festival, a lot just for pleasure. I took part in a physical film festival in Japan and I helped organise and execute an online film festival twice and during all of this I wrote a lot of reviews. Probably more reviews than in previous years. On top of it all, I also helped start a podcast about Asian films called Heroic Purgatory where I discuss films with fellow writer John Atom (the Christmas special is already out and the second season coming in 2021!).

When I was able to go to the cinema I watched a wide variety of things. In the UK, the last film I watched was Parasite with my mother. In Japan, I went to numerous screenings at the Osaka Asian Film Festival and an animation festival at the Yujiku Asagaya (just before Tokyo’s lockdown). At home with a lot of time on my hands I got into the cinema of Mario Bava and re-watched lots of Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento movies. I waded through hours of 70s and 80s horror movies from America and I went back to some tried and trusted Japanese classics. Most of all, I tried to get more Japanese indie films out there and so I think this is reflected in my list of top films from 2020.

So, what are they?.  

Continue reading “Genkina hito’s Top Fourteen Films of 2020”

Japanese Films at the London East Asian Film Festival 2019

The London East Asian Film Festival announced its programme last month and there will be a lot of films to see from October 24th to November 03rd and there is a great slate of films from Korea to Hong Kong and Japan.

Here are some of the non-Japanese titles I’ve reviewed:

The Crossing (festival link) and Still Human (festival link) The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil (festival link)

The Japanese selection features titles both old and new, fresh off the festival circuit and dragged out of the vaults.

Here are the details:

Continue reading “Japanese Films at the London East Asian Film Festival 2019”

Japanese Films at the Busan International Film Festival 2019 (03rd-12th October)

Busan International Film Festival Logo

This year’s Busan International Film Festival is the 24th in the series and it runs from October 03rd to the 12th. This is the first time that I have covered Busan but it has been on the cards for a while because, much like Tokyo and Osaka, it’s a good place to scout out Asian films. There is a great slate of titles from some soon-to-be-released mainstream films to indie movies and there are familiar titles featured at other festivals.

Here are the titles!

The Opening Film is:

The Horse Thieves. Roads of Time    The Horse Thieves. Roads of Time Film Poster

オルジャスの白い馬Oruhasu no Shiroi Uma

Release Date: January 18th, 2020

Duration: 84 mins.

Director: Yerlan Nurmukhambetov, Lisa Takeba

Writer: Yerlan Nurmukhambetov (Screenplay),

Starring: Dulyga Akmolda, Madi Minaidarov, Mirai Moriyama, Samal Yeslyamova,

Website IMDB

This road movie/western is a co-production between Kazakhstan/Japan and brought to the big screen via Tokyo New Cinema. It is the work of two directors, Yerlan Nurmukhambetov who won the New Currents Award in Busan International Film Festival 2015, and Lisa Takeba. Yes, that Lisa Takeba with the fierce imagination who made The Pinkie (2014) and Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory (2015). In his first overseas role, Mirai Moriyama (The Drudgery Train) takes one of the lead characters amongst a predominantly Kazakh cast.

It looks like an ambitious and fresh new movie production for Japan as it follows To the Ends of the Earth to new territories and stories. 

Synopsis: We are in the plains of the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan, a world where horse thieves operate under vast skies and on huge grass plains. A family man is murdered by those thieves as he heads to a town market to sell his horses. This leaves his wife a widow and his children fatherless. The village comes together to help the wife hold the man’s funeral and then the wife decides to return to her family with her children. Then, another man who vanished from her life eight years ago appears and helps the woman move and takes one of the children, the son, under his wing, teaching him how to ride horses. The son of the wife resembles that man. The man and the boy go out on horseback together and track down the horse thieves…

Continue reading “Japanese Films at the Busan International Film Festival 2019 (03rd-12th October)”

Japanese Films at the BFI London Film Festival 2019

BFI London Film Festival Logo

This year’s London Film Festival runs from October 02nd to the 13th and they have announced their selection of films. It’s a solid slate of films which has Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s latest, To the Ends of the Earth and Takashi Miike’s latest work, First Love! There are a couple of left-field titles such as 37 Seconds and Family Romance LLC, the latter from Werner Herzog. There’s also the American film Earthquake Bird which is set in Tokyo. There’s also the Korean film Maggie which I saw in March and reviewed here.

Here’s what is programmed:

Continue reading “Japanese Films at the BFI London Film Festival 2019”

Japanese Films at the Toronto International Film Festival 2019 (05th-15th September)

Toronto International Film Festival 2014 Post Header

This year’s Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 05th to the 15th and they have announced their selection of films. There is a great slate of titles from some of the big hitters in the industry with both live-action and anime getting represented. Yes, it’s an auteur-driven selection although Contemporary World Cinema has an award-winning indie drama by newbie director Hikari. It’s joined in that strand by a drama by Koji Fukada which was at Locarno along with a film in the strand Masters which has Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s latest, To the Ends of the Earth. Wavelengths 2 features a short film collection, SUN RAVE, which has a short from Japan by director Tomonari Nishikawa. Special Presentation has Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering with You and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s The Truth. There are Japanese inclusions in the documentaries Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema and Dads and Midnight Madness features Takashi Miike’s latest work!

Continue reading “Japanese Films at the Toronto International Film Festival 2019 (05th-15th September)”

We Are Little Zombies, To the Ends of the Earth, Don’t Cry, Mr. Ogre, For Whom the Alchemist Exists, Shiba Park, Junichi, Love Drives You Crazy, Uta no☆Prince-sama♪ Maji Love Kingdom Movie, Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya: Prisma Phantasm, Handling Method for Grumpy Woman, Rascal Does Not Dream of Dreaming Girl the Movie, Girlz und Panzer das Finale Part 2, Aitachi no Gakko, Toureppu “Kaiju no Kodomo” wo sagashite, Dance! Horror Restaurant, Moeyo! Shippai Joshi Japanese Film Trailers

Happy weekend!


I hope you are all well.

This weekend’s trailer post is an epic one as lots of titles are released on Friday and Saturday. My week in blog posts started with a review of the Korean film The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil (2019) and then a review of Whole (2019) which I wrote back in March and then a preview of the films that have been programmed for Japan Cuts 2019 – a great selection!

What is released this weekend?

Continue reading “We Are Little Zombies, To the Ends of the Earth, Don’t Cry, Mr. Ogre, For Whom the Alchemist Exists, Shiba Park, Junichi, Love Drives You Crazy, Uta no☆Prince-sama♪ Maji Love Kingdom Movie, Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya: Prisma Phantasm, Handling Method for Grumpy Woman, Rascal Does Not Dream of Dreaming Girl the Movie, Girlz und Panzer das Finale Part 2, Aitachi no Gakko, Toureppu “Kaiju no Kodomo” wo sagashite, Dance! Horror Restaurant, Moeyo! Shippai Joshi Japanese Film Trailers”