Directed by Sono Sion
Sensitively crafted and sneakily poignant, Sono Sion’s ‘Land of Hope’ will punch you in the heart and gut without you seeing it coming.
Based in the fictional prefecture of Nagashima, ‘The Land of Hope’ chronicles the story of two families following an earthquake that causes a nuclear plant meltdown. Based on the 3/11 Fukushima nuclear disaster, the film has little new to say about the dangers of nuclear power, but draws on the emotional pull surrounding the tragedy that befalls these two families.
While one family, the Suzukis, quickly evacuate following the disaster, the other, the Onos, stay behind — at least until family patriarch Yasuhiko Ono orders his son and daughter-in-law to leave. The Suzukis, too, end up splitting in two when the son, Mitsuru, chooses to accompany his girlfriend back into the disaster zone to try find some sign of her family.
What follows is a story that subtly pulls at your heartstrings until you are curled up in a ball trying not to cry. There is no doubt this film is a tearjerker, though it is one that sneaks up on you and leaves you wondering how you got so involved in the first place.
The reason is, no doubt, the performances by this talented cast. Starring Natsuyagi Isao, Murakami Jun, Kagurazaka Megumi, Otoni Naoko, Kajiwara Hikari and Shimizu Yutaka, ‘The Land of Hope’ is filled with characters that you recognise, that you have met, that you will admire.
You will find yourself hopelessly charmed by Otoni’s Chieko, and identifying with both Murakami’s Yoichi and Kagurazaka’s Izumi, even though they stand on different sides of the debate for some time.
However, you should really watch out for Natsuyagi’s commanding performance as Ono Yasuhiko, head of the Ono family and steadfast in his refusal to uproot his senile wife from familiar grounds. It is difficult to feel angry that he is endangering himself and his wife when the love he feels for her is starkly evident. Natsuyagi, who sadly passed away last year, portrays Ono as a man who is firm and strict with his son yet achingly tender and devoted to his wife — a dichotomy that is sadly poignant as you see the reasons for his strictness.
A character you should also watch out for is Shimizu’s Mitsuru, who starts the film as a careless biker, yet demonstrates amazing loyalty and affection in aiding his girlfriend back to her hometown.
One of the reasons this film is especially touching is its spare use of music. Instead Sono relies mostly on background noises to create atmosphere, with music applied during especially emotional scenes. When the music wells up, more often than not, tears will well up as well.
The cinematography also helps this film pull at your heartstrings. While the wide sweeps of landscape and sometimes dream-like long shots are beautifully poetic, the documentary-style filming roots it in reality, drawing you into its story with a gently firm hand.
Directed with a deft hand, Sono’s ‘Land of Hope’ is emotionally draining, painfully poignant and a worthy watch. While the director’s message about the dangers of nuclear power is obvious, the film never feels exploitative — instead it seems more like a heartfelt plea to think of the next generation when it comes to nuclear power; a point that is pushed home with Izumi’s pregnancy.
While I cannot promise you a happy — or even satisfying — ending, I can promise you a beautifully crafted and emotionally powerful tale that will leave you drained but feeling hopeful — the film’s central message. If I could give you one suggestion — other than the insistence that you watch this film — it is to keep tissues near at hand.
I wish I had.
Review by Nadhirah Nazdri