iSugio

The Land Of Hope – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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An elderly couple, their only son, the son’s wife, a young man and his lover live peacefully in a small residential area. Then, a terrifying earthquake strikes that causes a nearby nuclear station to explode. The residents learn they must evacuate, but the elderly couple owns a farm, with the evacuation line draped across their front yard. The father wants to stay, but the son wants him to go. Meanwhile, the son’s wife Izumi learns she is pregnant.

Given his impressive track record, Sion Sono is certainly one of Japan’s most courageous contemporary directors. With the likes of such films of his as Strange Circus (2005), Cold Fish (2010), and Guilty of Romance (2011), Sono is one to continuously push past the the visceral limitations that cinema can offer, often exploring the deep-rooted psychological ramifications that arise along the way. Similar to his previous film Himizu (2012), Sono presents The Land of Hope as a careful examination on the various aspects of hope amidst the dilapidation of the family unit. It is no surprise to also see that both films are set to the backdrop of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, with The Land of Hope taking it one step further to explore the controversial Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and its emotional connection to that of the Japanese populace, in turn providing a narrative framework in which to explore the devastating effects that such a disaster has had on the individual and the respective family structure.

Considering the film’s particular focus on a similar event to that of the Fukushima nuclear debacle, Sono presents the film primarily as a social commentary on the state of the Japanese citizenry and their relationship to that of their government. He continually paints a vivid picture of the mounting distrust that people have developed towards the Japanese government and their numerous promises to keep them safe from the harmful effects of radiation. Whether this is seen in the character of Yasuhiko, an elderly man who meets government assurance regarding safety with a strong sense of cynicism given their past failures, to Izumi, a pregnant woman whose increasing paranoia concerning the effects of radiation entering the government sanctioned “safe zones” taking a toll on her personal wellbeing and relationship with husband Yoichi, Sono does not shy away from portraying the Japanese government as a strong catalyst for expanding the problem surrounding a nuclear plant disaster rather than providing much of a viable solution towards it.

Besides offering a rather harsh critique of the administrative powers within Japan, The Land of Hope also provides psychological exploration of how disasters can separate family members from one another, with each individual also developing a different conclusion as to what is the appropriate way to handle such as situation. This is most apparent in the character of Yoichi and his parents Yasuhiko and Chieko, with the latter two deciding not to evacuate and choosing to stay at their home. This decision inevitably brings about confusion and despair for son Yoichi and daughter-in-law Izumi, as they continuously advocate for both Yasuhiko and Chieko to come with them and seek shelter. Sono’s use of imagery throughout the film plays a significant part in respect to the parents’ defiant nature, mostly presenting such images as a metaphorical representations of the characters themselves. For example, the frequent shot of the tree within Yasuhiko and Chieko’s yard is seemingly reestablishing their ability to stay firm amidst a time in which practically the entire region is attempting to escape the effects of radiation. Like the old tree, they are not going to be unwillingly uprooted and moved, choosing their own destiny rather than trusting in government officials to dictate it. It is also seemingly a metaphorical representation of the resilience of the Japanese people as well, with Sono suggesting the power to remain optimistic in times of hardships and making an effort to rely on family and friends to get through such tribulations.

The Land of Hope is definitely one of Sono’s slower, less startling films to date, spending much of its narration on the how each character interprets the dire situation at hand. Considering the film’s backdrop to that of real world events, this approach offers a viewing experience that is easily as unsettling as Sono’s previous, more eccentric films, especially since it focuses primarily on familial distraught that arises when faced with national disasters. The global acknowledgement of the earthquake and nuclear plant catastrophe lends the film a universalistic quality that practically any viewer can relate to in some capacity. Some might even suggest that it may be a little too soon to be making a film that is critical towards the Japanese government and their handling of such national disasters, but it is also refreshing to see directors such as Sono unafraid to do so. The Land of Hope may not follow in the steps of Sono’s other, more distinct works, but it is a film that fearlessly raises earnest social inquiries that, like Sono himself, boldly explores the taboo amidst a time of national tragedy.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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