Okay, films are often made for reasons other than art. And the ones that are done to promote tourism are pretty disastrous (do you remember Bollywood’s Love In Tokyo?). This Japanese film which was made to celebrate ties between Japan and Uzbekistan succeeds in getting over its propagandist design to tell a stirring story of a young Japanese struggler actress Yoko (Atsuko Maeda) who travels to Uzbekistan to shoot a series for a Japanese travel show.
This scarily vivid film on skewered gender-relations in a society which is just opening up its doors to Western mores, shows Yoko being exploited in the most casual way, like eating undercooked rice for the camera (which the woman doing the actual cooking fixes and generously gives Yoko to eat at her leisure). As the film crew travels to various parts of Uzbekistan, Yoko is put into potentially dangerous situations. In one of these, she is repeatedly run on a rollercoaster at recreational park while her genuine terror and nausea are filmed by the emotionless crew who are not callous, just indifferent to discomfort as long as they get their require footage.
At some point Yoko finds herself a little mission of rescuing a goat from a local woman’s backyard, only to realize that the goat would be slaughtered by wild animals if left free in the jungle. In this way, the film questions the notion of freedom. If Yoko was not forced to earn a living by endangering herself each time, would she value life and love the way she does?
Throughout the film we see Yoko alone (the boyfriend is far away present in Yoko’s life as text messages), standing tall in her isolation as she plays guinea pig to the experimental crew of a travelogue that probably very few watch.
Towards the end, the storytelling assumes a hallucinatory hue as Yoko imagines herself singing on stage in Ubekistan’s celebrated opera house. This again seems more touristic propaganda than an artistic propensity. But director Kiyushi Kurosawa never crosses the line to leap into the uneasy rhythms of touristic propaganda.
There is no lack kind sympathetic people in To The Ends Of The Earth. But at the end of the day, you can’t escape the thought that this film was made with a hidden agenda. As a tourist brochure of brittle motivations, To The Ends Of The Earth cleverly negotiates the pitfalls of propaganda to emerge as a strong statement on the perils of being a working girl in a society that has lately woken up to celebrating roles for women other than a housewife and a bed partner. Japan doesn’t quite know what to do with an independent minded, under-privileged working class girl like Yoko.
Image source: youtube/TIFFTrailers/IMBD
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