by Álvaro André Zeini Cruz
In “To The Ends of the Earth”, Japanese reporter Yoko (Atsuko Maeda) and her television crew travel around Uzbekistan producing a documentary. At one point, the translator Temur (Adiz Rajabov) tries to convince them to record at the Navoi Theater and confesses that the place led him to study Japanese and, consequently, to find a profession. Temur explains: The theatre’s walls were carved by Japanese soldiers imprisoned in World War II. He adds that, upon learning about this story, he began not only to admire but to want to retribute that men, who, even arrested, turned those walls into works of art.
When this scene occurs, another has already happened at Navoi: in this previous scene, Yoko enters precisely the decorated antechambers described by Temur, until reaching the auditorium, where Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s mise-en-scène operates the change from the physical register to the metaphysical one: the transformation of light and the emergence of an orchestra in the ditch are the elements that surround the phantasmagoria that takes the stage – Yoko herself, not in body, but spirit. Then, on stage, she begins to sing nothing less than “Hymn to Love”.
The song will only finish later since the handcuffs of the physical world present themselves; a guard interrupts the kind of trance Yoko was in, recapturing that piece of soul that was singing on stage. This film is about confinement and freedom, but more than that, about how the body and spirit deal with these two states. Fascinated by the construction – which holds a little of her people History; consequently, of her own – Yoko unravels the martyrdom that is for her that profession, that trip, that loneliness, that life. She – who previously felt sorry for a trapped goat, making a point of giving freedom to the animal – needs to learn to release the spirit. Although at that moment she knows nothing about the hands that built that space, she feels a recognition between inmates, as if their figurative imprisonment felt the literal detention of the builders of the work. As if each ornament were a scar of liberation and, at the same time, the constitution of a new prison: the fragment of the spirit that frees itself in the act of art and confines itself again in the work of art itself.
From there begins a journey of reconstitution of the senses: from listening to looking (the camera that was given to her), then speaking (she can only sing “Hymn to love” when the love flows through the voice, not through text messages). Then, with eyes, ears and heart open, she finds the goat, freed body and spirit, in the wanderings of the mountains; if the space of the theatre reverberates the souls, but is still a physical decal for them, it is among the hills that challenge the threshold between heaven and Earth, between the material and the metaphysical, that she will conclude “Hymn to Love”, in a scene that, just describing it, makes me want to cry. The camera hovers between the sky and the Earth but finds Yoko’s face again in a close-up: no longer the face of the body, but the face of the spirit. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s cinema is known for blurring the boundaries of the physical world, inviting surrounding spirits to invade it. Here it is not about what is around but what is inside. The body is a springboard for this deep dive into the soul.
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