By Takashi Oki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer“Tabi no Owari Sekai no Hajimari” (To The Ends Of The Earth), which opened in theaters last week, was shot entirely in Uzbekistan.
Atsuko Maeda plays the lead role of a TV reporter in the film, directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa.
“I had such a wonderful time immersing myself in the world of Mr. Kurosawa,” said Maeda, describing the month or so she spent with the film crew.
The story is about a TV variety show crew visiting Uzbekistan to find an elusive, mysterious fish to feature in the program. The show’s director (played by Shota Sometani) engages in a series of arguments with laid-back local people, creating problems for the crew.
Yoko (played by Maeda) can do nothing but put on a forced smile in front of the camera even when being served an uncooked meal or feeling sick after getting on a ride at a local amusement park.
“She’s reached the point where she can’t show her emotions. I think she’s a person who has given up on expecting or depending on other people’s kindness,” Maeda said.
Kurosawa instructed Maeda never to smile back at other cast members. In keeping with the director’s instruction, Maeda portrayed Yoko as someone who matter-of-factly accepts the TV director’s outrageous requests and remains emotionless even when going shopping for supper at a local market.
“It was really hard. She’s completely different from me,” Maeda said.
The film carefully depicts how Yoko starts to open her mind through her experiences in Uzbekistan, going to various localities and coming in contact with people there.
This is the third time Maeda has worked with Kurosawa. She said although the director has a calm demeanor, he precisely corrects her any time she is doing something unneeded. For example, he told her to keep her head still in one scene. There were times when she was perplexed by his instructions, but she realized her acting became all the more refined when she followed them.
“He removes unnecessary things from my acting. It feels like detoxification of sorts,” Maeda said.
She places complete trust in Kurosawa. Yoko, who aspires to become a singer, sings Edith Piaf’s “Hymne a l’amour” in the film. Maeda needed eight takes and five hours to complete the singing scene, the climax of the film. The entire crew was surprised by the time that went into the scene, with one of them telling her it was unusual for Kurosawa to be so patient.
“I can only thank him for fighting with me,” she said.
Maeda has worked with various directors and played a range of characters. Each and every time, she did her best to respond to what the directors wanted.
“I didn’t want to be told, ‘Do as you like to do,’ because I don’t have my own style yet,” Maeda said. “I was always colored by each character I played.” In short, she hadn’t yet developed a clear sense of self.
That started to change after she got married last year and gave birth to a boy this year. It was her first child, and her maternity leave was the first long break of her career.
“I’ve realized that my private life and my job are different. Because of this, I now have the feeling that I can finally start to see who I really am. Maybe I can find out more about the differences between myself and the characters I play,” she said.
Through her child, she has also become able to look at herself objectively.