Review by: Mountain Monkey
SCUM Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Released just a year after Sion Sono’s Himizu (2011), The Land of Hope (Kibô no kuni) is the director’s second film to deal with the catastrophic earthquake that devastated Japan on 11 March, 2011.
While Sono rewrote Himizu at the last minute to interject events from the disaster into a pre-existing script, The Land of Hope deals entirely with the disaster, focusing particularly on the radioactive fallout at Fukushima.
The Land of Hope is set in a parallel reality where there is a second earthquake and nuclear disaster, this time at a fictional prefecture, Nagashima. Within Nagashima lies an anonymous and idyllic farming community where the Ono and Suzuki families live next to each other. When the nuclear fallout strikes, the two families are literally divided by a barrier that runs around the 20km radius of the stricken nuclear plant.
The hastily-placed barrier signals where the film divides into two, and we shadow the fate of the two families as they begin to follow different lives. The Suzuki family, who are within the ‘contaminated zone’ evacuate to a refuge, while the Ono family, who reside just outside the zone, are allowed to stay. Their stay is only temporary though, as the authorities begin to pressure them to move when radiation levels continue to rise.
The film dives headlong into heart-wrenching territory here, as the head of the Ono family and lead actor Yasuhiko Ono (Isao Natsuyagi) orders his son and wife to leave so they can start a new family away from the nuclear devastation. Yasuhiko and his dementia-stricken wife, Chieko Ono (Naoko Otani), are third-generation Ono’s, and choose to stay at their ancestral home, whatever the consequences.
All the actors in Land of Hope put in exemplary performances, particularly Isao Natsuyagi, who sadly passed away this May. Sono regular Megumi Kagurazaka (who appeared in Himizu, Guilty of Romance and Cold Fish) returns again to play the role of Yasuhiko’s daughter-in-law, Izumi Ono.
Sono uses tsunami-stricken Japan as a backdrop for several dramatic scenes. The combination of real scenes and intense acting gives the film a documentary-feel and one cannot help but feel that the 2011 disaster is still a very open wound in Japan, particularly with continual leakages at Fukushima. Sono also touches on the discrimination faced by ‘radiation-refugees’ as they struggle to cope with a new life.
Clocking in at over two hours, The Land of Hope is not easy viewing with a tidy Hollywood ending. It also lacks the darker, grittier tones of Sono’s earlier movies, such as Love Exposure and Cold Fish. It does however show that with each new release, Sono continues to contribute important perspectives on the state of modern Japanese society.