Review: The Land Of Hope / by Steve Russell

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Japanese director Sion Sono, whose previous work includes Love Exposure and Himizu, is back with this thought provoking family drama focused around their struggle to function as a unit in the fallout of, get this; not only an earthquake, but a subsequent nuclear crisis. 

Focusing primarily on Yasuhiko, played with doe eyed conviction by Isao Natsuyagi), patriarch of this troubled family, as well as his son, Yoichi Ono and their fracturing relationship. Throw in Chieko, Yashuhiko’s alzheimer inflicted mother, and Yoichi’s responsibility to his wife and her unhealthy burgeoning habit in radiophobia, and you’ve got a melting pot of family dissent and friction. 

The catalyst for all these issues stems from an earthquake within the fictional area of Nagashima, off setting a chain reaction that leads to a near by nuclear power plant to suffer an explosion. The community reels in the aftermath, primarily: anything within the twenty-kilometer evacuation radius. One thing that falls outside, literally just outside, of this radius? The Ono family and their farm. A brilliant scene plays out here in which the obvious question is asked: what difference does it make. If there is radiation, it would be in the air. Just because you place a barrier here, doesn’t mean the infected air will just stop. And there’s the rub: should the family stay, risking the possibility of radiation poisoning, or do they leave their family home that they have been cultivating for generations, something that is nicely represented with the tree that stands so proudly in their front garden. 

The Land Of Hope is an interesting film, tackling a topic that should, rightly, be remembered and discussed. The concept of forgetting these events; think tsunami, earthquakes, et al, is a very real thing. Enough time passes, it becomes old news. Old news doesn’t sell. And so people forget, with the news instead bombarding them with unnecessary coverage of some new night vision blow job queen, or some celebrity couples latest high jinks. This movie, if anything else, highlights this point and it should be commended for it. 

It has a wonderful, poignant message that should be shared with others, if only to help to keep these tragedies in peoples consciousness. 

The movie is an odd mixture of highs and lows, the ending in particular I believe will divide people with how dire it all becomes. There are a few high light scenes and moments; some finding humor in the absurdity of the subject matter (like the one I mentioned earlier), others with a bittersweet tone of sadness. Without giving too much away, the scene in which Chieko wants nothing more than to dance, and the way Yasuhiko can’t bear to upset his wife is a very sweet moment during the films, admittedly, bloated 133 minute running time. This is where the journey stumbles. There seems to be a lot of long, lingering shots that, instead of hammering home some sort of essential motif, instead looks like they forgot to cut. A tighter edit could do a lot to help the flow of this film. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for slow paced sci-fi: I’m a big fan of Kubrick, like anybody else. But I just found this to be somewhat plodding. Couple this with the obvious repetition of thematic ideas, and you find yourself being frequently reminded that Chieko will finally be able to go home in “ten minutes”; leaving this, and other, supposedly poignant moments providing a slightly bitter taste.

 

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Yasuhiko, and in turn Chieko, were the driving force of the narrative for me. I found that  my interest in Yoichi Ono and Izumi’s story fell to the back burner for me very quickly, and left me waiting to see what was happening with his parents. Watching Izumi’s slow descent into radiophobia (defined by the irrefutable Wikipedia as “an abnormal fear of ionizing radiation, in particular, fear of X-rays. The term is also used in a non-medical sense to refer to general opposition to the use of nuclear energy.”) was hard watching, and for the wrong reasons. I didn’t find myself sympathizing in any discernible way, instead finding her downward spiral to be nothing more than a distraction to the Ono farm. Yasuhiko, acting as a constant enabler to his wife and her issues, comes off less an understanding husband and more an irresponsible human being. MINOR SPOILER: the slaps he receives are well deserved.

Was The Land Of Hope a perfect movie? Not by a long shot. Overly long, and featuring characters frequently doing nonsensical things its saving grace is, without doubt, it’s unabashed willingness to tackle serious issues without shying away from them. Not only that, but holding up a mirror in order to address this issue with the media and their coverage of these disasters and events. If only for this message The Land Of Hope is worth watching. Hailing itself as a sci-fi movie specifically, The Land Of Hope does what most successful science fiction should do. It holds up that uncomfortable mirror for a society to look into, to remind ourselves of our flaws and potential through a prism of potential possibility. This earthquake/nuclear reaction tag team, for example, is a very real threat. I wouldn’t blame you for initially balking at Sion Sono’s emphatic reasoning as to why this movie should be considered science fiction. But with further thought, it’s hard to argue a counter point.

If you have ever found yourself wondering “Oh yeah, I remember that! Shit, I wonder what happened.” in regards to any natural event that has been covered within the past few years, only to go on with your life and allow the mists of time to dull the initial shock/horror, then watch this movie and remember: just because the cameras stop rolling on the coverage, doesn’t mean the tragedy is over. And, for the interest of full disclosure: yes, I am guilty of this.

Are you?  

Steve Russell // @stevetendo

★★★☆☆  

The Land Of Hope is out not on DVD and Blu Ray courtesy of Third Window Films 

The Land of Hope [DVD]
Starring Isao Natsuyagi, Murakumi Jun, Megumi Kagurazaka, Naoko Otani, Denden