Review: The Land Of Hope

film reviews | movies | features | BRWC Review: The Land Of Hope

By Gordon Foote.

I’m never very sure which side I come down on in regards to the nuclear issue.

I can see the benefits, sure; a relatively clean, reliable, widely available power source to help with our continually increasing need for power.  On the other hand, I say this with an objective freedom brought on by location.  That is, my nearest nuclear power plant is about an hour and a half’s drive from here, but I suspect if it was “in my back yard”, I would have a rather different take on the whole endeavour.

Few other issues are as divisive, and few hang over us, sword of Damocles like, in a constant state of equal risk and usefulness.  Of all cultures, it is perhaps the Japanese, who have the most internalised, institutionalised fear of radiation and nuclear power as a result, obviously, of the nukes dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

This fear is, many would argue, entirely justified as generations after the war have had to live in fear of mutation and illness, and this is reflected heavily throughout manga/anime culture and the prominence of Kaiju films in the 50s and 60s.

Shion Sono’s 2012 drama, Kibô no kuni, looks at Japan’s most recently brush with nuclear disaster; the damage caused to the Nagashima power plant as a result of the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake and Tusnami.

The film focuses on the Ono family. A mother and father, their son, and his wife, who run a farm on the outskirts of Nagashima, a small bustling community with a nuclear power plant on its door step.   Sono takes great care to ensure the feel of the town is cemented early on, giving hints of neighbourly relationships, mates-rates trading, and the usual generational differences which arouse amusement and recognition in any audience.  Cows are fed, family dinners are witnessed, and friendly banter is tossed around enough to get an overwhelming feeling of normality; a typical community doing typical community things.  Building this sense of place is time well spent, as much of the film focuses on the upset caused when home and community are lost.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a drama if something didn’t go wrong, and in this case it is a rather serious something: the earthquake hits and the plant is damaged.  Nagashima is fully evacuated up to 20km from the reactors which results in a cordon going up at the end of the Ono family’s garden, cutting them off from both the town they have grown up in, and their neighbours.   This scene is, without question, one of the best in the film.  It provides our first hint at Sono’s anti-governmental stance, as troops and specialists refuse to give, even tiny clues, about the plants condition to the scared towns folk, showing almost no compassion or understanding as they begin the task of setting up barricades.    The lack of trust in officials in relation to nuclear power is a thread which runs throughout the film and one which caught me a little off guard.  I am not Japanese, I have never been to Japan, and as such had not realised there was such a sense of mistrust. It’s an eye-opening plot point which is conveyed well, laboured almost, as references are made repeatedly to the earlier Fukushima crisis.

This scene is also bathed in a grim comedy, as the fence is erected and families 10 foot from Ono’s farm are evacuated while they are told they are safe; as though radiation is a strict adherent to local zoning laws.   From here, however, the story starts to focus on its other main issues; family, love, and home.

Ideally, the film would now have adopted two sets of characters as Yoichi and his wife Izumi are sent away from the farm to ensure their safety while, father, Yasuhiko and his wife, Cheiko, remain on the farm.  Sadly, Sono gets greedy and throws a third set of characters into the mix who add nothing and only serve to lengthen the film needlessly.  It’s a shame, as the development of the Ono family is genuinely interesting.  Watching as they each handle the nuclear threat and the disruption to their lives in different ways forges strong, well-rounded characters but the flow is broken entirely as these other two people amble through the film for no apparent reason.

It is quite a heavy going films, weighing in at over two hours and not on the fluffiest of topics, perhaps these yahoos are here as an inbuilt ad-break?  I don’t know, but for whatever reason, they break the pace of an already slow movie, and have an impact on immersion too…think of them as the Sam and Frodo of Kibô no kuni.

Although performances are pretty good across the board, special mention is earned by Isao Natsuyagi in the role of Yasuhiko.  Throughout the film, his character is burdened with the loss of his community, the continuing threat of losing the home he and his wife (suffering with advanced dementia/Alzheimer’s) have shared their entire married life, the worry for his son and Izuma, and the subsequent fear of the continuation of his line, and the ever present threat of radiation.   It’s a lot of balls to keep in the air, but Natsuyagi manages with grace and skill.  When he is on screen, you know it’s going to be a good scene.   The warmth with which he treats his wife, the near eternal patience he displays when speaking to officials, and the mixture of fatherly love and patriarchal severity shown in his dealing with Yoichi are entirely believable and provide the strong back-bone the rest of the film builds itself around, and the other actors benefit from.

Kibô no kuni is a film about coping and it investigates two polar opposite methods of dealing with a) the threat of radiation and b) the loss of your old life.  It throws into the mix questions about love and family, but at the heart of it, we see two approaches – a cold acceptance juxtaposed with a borderline obsessive fear.  It’s entertaining to see the two sides of the coin and certainly enlightening too, as Japan’s attitude to nuclear power in the 21st century is not something I know much about.

However, be warned, this is a long film with pacing issues.  Sono slowly crafts some good characters, but time is poorly spent in places and the script loses sight of “Show don’t tell” with monotonous regularity, especially early on.


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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.



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