To the Ends of the Earth movie review (2020)

Still, I’ll give it the ol’ college try. You can almost always understand what’s happening to Yoko without ever really knowing what she’s feeling since Maeda’s character doesn’t often explicitly spell things out through literal-minded dialogue or canned confrontations. Yoko’s behavior suggests that she’s “cautious and insular like many young Japanese,” as the movie’s press notes spell out: she keeps to herself when she’s not on call, enjoys texting her firefighter boyfriend Ryo (never seen or heard), and sometimes takes short side-trips by herself.

And when Yoko is on the job, she’s often tamping down her emotions for the sake of performing as an enthusiastic, engaged travel host. She smiles and remarks about the “crunchy” flavor of uncooked rice in a bowl of “plov,” a local dish—the chef didn’t have time to properly cook the rice before an unannounced shoot—and pretends to casually shake off intense nausea after she takes three consecutive turns on a fun-park pendulum ride (the camera crew couldn’t get enough B-camera footage of Yoko’s face after just one or two takes).

Yoko also studiously avoids men and other locals when she sneaks out of her hotel room to get food or sight-see. Her mind sometimes wanders, like when she visits a concert hall, and she fantasizes about performing on stage with a small orchestra sitting in front of her. The staging, lighting, and pacing of this unusually whimsical sequence (it’s all a dream!) reveals its character: the camera follows Maeda from behind in medium close-up as Yoko enters and prepares to exit a series of rooms that are decorated with gorgeous arabesques at the end of each hallway. In this scene, Yoko is never shown leaving a room; she approaches the end of one hallway, and then re-appears at the far side (or in the middle) of another room. She finally appears on stage, and sings a moving version of Edith Piaf’s “Hymne a L’Amour.” The theater’s stage seems broad enough that the orchestra pit below appears to us like the outside of a zoo cage; for one rare moment, we are on the inside with Yoko looking out.

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