Story: Yasuhiko Ono (Isao Natsuyagi) is a cattle raiser in Nagashima and lives together with his wife
Chieko (Naoko Otani), who is suffering from dementia. His son Yoichi (Jun Murakami) also lives at their house, along with
his wife Izumi (Megumi Kagurazaka). One day there is an earthquake and a loud bang that can be heard from somewhere in the
distance. Yasuhiko fears the worst - the nuclear meltdown at the nearby plant. In fact, the military turns up
shortly afterwards and evacuates everyone within a 20km radius around the plant. The border goes right through Yasuhiko's
yard. While the neighboring couple (Denden and Mariko Tsutsui) and their son Mitsuru (Yutaka Shimizu) as well as his
girlfriend (Hikari Kajiwara) are being evacuated Yasuhiko's family isn't taken to the local camp. However, the father
distrusts the government's appeasing statement and sends his son and Izumi somewhere safe. He himself doesn't want to leave his
home, though, even though he is pretty sure that the area is contaminated. Yoichi tries to persuade his father to flee
the danger zone, but because of his sick wife it is impossible for Yasuhiko to do so and also he doesn't want to.
Review: Director Sion Sono certainly matured as a filmmaker over the years. "The Land of Hope" is a good
example for that. Fans of his movies full of violent frenzy and a philosophical touch might even consider his newest work
to be a tad too serious and dramatic. Sono tries to process the events of Fukushima and get across the bitter message
that the catastrophe hasn't changed the Japanese government's way of thinking at all. Accordingly, Sion's movie is slightly
cynical below its surface, but most of all it is an accusatory work. First of all, though, it is a family drama since
the events of Nagashima, another fictious nuclear catastrophe, are depicted from the subjective view of a family.
This was supposed to take away some emotional detachment born from the story's nature, but sadly this isn't achieved.
This also isn't the first post-apocalyptic work the director brings to the big screen. In "Himizu"
we could already marvel at a dreary world that was nearly devoid of hope. However, "The Land of Hope" even goes a step
further. The extremely low pacing, the quiet menace caused by possible radiation and an uncertain future wear down
the viewer as things progress. Somewhere in this film there is supposed to be a silver lining at the horizon, sometimes
you can even guess that there actually is, but all in all Sion's work is frighteningly pessimistic in tone, yes even outright
depressing. Also adding to that are the pictures and sets like the dead city, which doesn't seem to give a glance at Fukushima
by accident. Also, the name of the prefecture Nagashima consists of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, which is
also how the director expresses his opinion about the atomic age.
It's interesting how the media deals with the incident. Life has to go on and the menace isn't that serious after all. The
Japanese aren't generally stupid and that there actually is a threat of being contaminated should be pretty obvious for
most of them, but they quietly let themselves be lulled into sleep and get muzzled. The passivity is startling and only
Izumi stands as a counterpart to this, as she is the only one trying the protect herself against the radiation. All she
gets for this are laughs, though, when she walks around in a radiation protection suit. She suffers from radiophobia,
thus embodies the complete opposite extreme, but after all she has all the reasons to do so as is shown later on.
However, in its core "The Land of Hope" also stands as a family drama which is mainly carried by Yasuhiko. He is a simple cattle raiser with a healthy portion of mistrust towards the government. Because of his sick wife, who is in strong need of a well organized schedule every day as she suffers from dementia, he doesn't see why he should move away from the disaster zone. For his son it's also pretty obvious that he stays there in order to die. But there isn't much left to do for him in life after all. In some scenes it becomes apparent that he already got worked up when the nuclear plant had been built as he has foreseen the disaster, but when it eventually strikes he seems emotionally distant and as if having found his inner peace. Yoichi wants to rescue his father somehow, the story also revolves around that in a few too repititive scenes, but this doesn't seem to be possible.
The achievements of the cast are all in all great, Sono also got actors and actresses from his previous films on board, among them his wife Megumi Kagurazaka ("Guilty of Romance", "Cold Fish"). The composition of the pictures stands out with some almost poetic cinematography at times, but there is also a bit of a documentary style of directing shining through. Unfortunately, the story unfolds extremely slow and the general pacing is just too slow as well. Also, the implementation of very obvious symbolism is a bother and the story around the neighbors doesn't serve any real purpose, in fact it even distracts from the main storyline. Moreover, with the exception of Yasuhiko, the characters seem too cold along with the depicted world in which they interact so that you are desperately looking for the motive of hope the title suggests and almost can't find it anywhere. In its final minutes "The Land of Hope" manages to be touching, but at the bottom line Sono's work is too exhausting and depressing which in this special case can't be praised as something positive.