Cast: Atsuko Maeda, Ryo Kase, Shota Sometani, Adiz Radjabov
Closing Night Film, 2019 Locarno Film Festival
Official Selection, 2019 Toronto International Film Festival
While on assignment in Uzbekistan, a somber Japanese reporter named Yoko (Atsuko Maeda) participates in a series of “culture shock” scenarios. Not only do these hapless segments expose the contrived nature of reality television, they also show unsettling exchanges and compromises that take place when strangers in a far off land show their entitled true colors.
Yet, this strange, sublime new drama from master director Kiyoshi Kurosawa is neither social satire nor ideological critique. In between the staged interactions with local residents, hellish trips on a spinning carnival ride, and corny tours of famous bazaars, Yoko ventures out to explore the country by herself. Instead of discovering magical eat-pray-love energies typically associated with the travelogue genre, she confronts the unsettling biases that fuel her off-screen persona. Every waking moment outside the confines of her safely regimented media bubble inspires anxiety about the very residents she’s been tasked to cover.
Never one to shy away from a painstakingly measured pace, Kurosawa (Tokyo Sonata, Before We Vanish) gives us a nuanced, but troubled character study of a woman who’s never more than a few steps from shutting down. And still, her crippling fear of the other becomes the natural prelude to a moving, melancholic exploration of the self.
–Glenn Heath Jr.