The Land of Hope 希望の国 – (2012) Japan

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The Land of Hope 希望の国 (2012)

Shion Sono’s The Land of Hope examines an extreme aftermath, a fictional tsunami and its stealing of a town’s trust for safety. The local nuclear plant explodes of accident, and all adopt a very real paranoia for living, tempted to stay or go, handicapped by radiophobia and existential questioning. It comes at a time just at the heel of a real natural disaster, the Tohoku tsunami of 2011, and, understandably, the people of Japan are very angry with the outcome, it gruesome. Sono makes his mark a one of refusal to change. But unfortunately, for the sake of showing real heart and consideration for perspective in a time of crisis, his one-sided approach is too heavy-handed and lacking of significance for investigating the human condition. A fairy tale is made of an otherwise tragic happening of chance.

 

Before I continue with this review, please know that my personal belief on the actual tsunami of Japan, a one that took the lives of more than eighteen thousand individuals, is rooted with sadness and sorrow; it’s something, I, not from Japan, can really fully understand. It was a very disturbing, recent occurrence of the East, and blame for negligence or misguidedness of a country’s preparing under disaster and distress can sometimes be far too loaded a concern for forms of art to tackle.  I, along with others, feel a deep pain for those lost, and I feel guilty, even now, discussing this topic as a film’s plot. But, the movie is so tied to it, the history and its results, that I cannot refuse examining it. Remember though,  I review films. This one, tackling that tragedy, is difficult to review, so contemporary and close, also different from what I like, that I ask you to bear with me in my explaining a personal displeasure with it.

 

What is important to know of the plot is there are two families to focally consider, and their wanting to stay home when their local plant is destroyed, leaking radiation, is the gist. Most all others evacuate, but the central ones are either too stubborn to leave or altogether desperate to stay. As we watch, those reasons become one muddy mess.

 

I did not enjoy this film. What it provides in story is too close-minded, too dismissive to attach to disaster. It’s also counterproductive. I hope that does not offend, but I feel my watching and discovering a strong disgust with its plot arrangement is enough, I hope, to tell you: don’t see it. It did not prove to be of any genuine significance or adding on of knowledge, my watching, to learn and understand the history of Japan during this global dilemma.

 

Also know that my making comments and marks for film criticism is dependent on aspects of direction, story, performances, and aesthetics. Though these elements exist here, they are not nearly developed enough to be included; to add insight or identity, nor does it explain much of quality or characters, save for a few. It’s too concerned with melodrama, of soap opera,  that it loses even itself in the wishy washiness of exaggeration.

Handicap Kind of a Blame

The scenes have a melancholic greyness, sharp, shadowy, and dry that, creatively, mark it up the totem pole of appreciated design, but Sono goes for blandness in the rest of his compositing ideas, the shots outside of cool colors. He is so careful in trying to balance his proportions, the frames and what lies within them, that sequences lose life, a PBS documentary. It’s confusing too, what with the fainting temperament toward technology and people, not with the plant, acting innocent, but, other than expository dialogue revealing these Sono stances, the unsuspecting viewer has no clear detail enough to pinpoint a clue or lead-in of genuine personality. It’s too long without any real reason for stretching to a point past an hour and a half, and it’s two. To add, it’s also mean; in a way, blocking a real look see into objective compassion.

 

What is nice of the film, remarkable even– though, truly, it is, in its entirety, mostly melodramatic fluff–. is the complementary performances of both its leads, Yasuhiko, played by Isao Natsuyagi, and Chieko, played by Naoko Ohtani. The two, elderly parents soon expecting a grandson, draw us inward with their reminiscing on old-style Japan, before technological innovations and digital news. The government they cannot trust (along with energy), and their concerns become our own, even if only briefly. I am fond of that, their quality spirit for the past, as it marks some individuality.They’re our bridge of a dying era, a lens to reference, powerful and leading.

 

But Sono molds their united image of a coupe too closely to those from other Japanese works, almost identical cookie-cut versions, of better films. Think on a 1997 piece, that of Takeshi Kitano’s Fireworks. There, another power couple guide our story, another tragic one, of Nishi & his ill wife Miyuki.

 

Examine their similarities:

 

  • Strong, central male protagonists, of which despise their age, with ideologies for the continuing of old-style Japan, them hating newness and change.

  • Handicapped wives–Chieko suffers from dementia; Miyuki from cancer.

  • Recklessness, their aging toward death the motivation for plot progression.

  • And, their endings take place on beaches, the waves and clouds all pretty. With a deliberate and identical goal, they both form an abrupt exit strategy of their couple characters, ones that shock and awe, big bangs at the finish.

Add to that the fear for the future and a relentless blame, the workers and scientists behind the power plant, portrayed as misguided, unknowing buffoons, and one sees the shakiness of the film’s foundation for reality. No questions or insights are played to prove an innocence or balance of their place [at the plant] within the predicament, the locals (symbolizing all of us) to not trust alternative energies again. There’s a one scene though, just one, in which a worker from the nuclear plant is questioned by locals in an overnight, makeshift shelter for the townspeople, him like them, looking for a roof to sleep under. It happens just after the tsunami.

 

“What’s going on!?” a local says.

 

The worker doesn’t answer, not right away. He’s too scared, keeping his mouth mostly closed. Then he says:

 

Don’t ask me…

I don’t know either.

 

Sono leaves his rebuttal (and theirs, the hands at the plant) short and intentionally interrupted, hidden even. Aren’t we a bit curious to know how they’re really responsible, if that is what Sono wants us to believe. Why are we blaming them?

 

The worker shuts up, and then he blurts:

 

“You all use stoves, no?”

 

Hmm, a fair point.

Though its third act is its most rewarding, especially of Yasuhiko and Chieko dancing at the plant, enjoying their home, and talking of love, again, reminiscing on olden times, the long haul to get there, finally, toward the topic-meat that Sono aimed to drive a stake into, is irrefutably exhausting. Very clearly, Sono attempts to excuse his flaws with the film’s proximity in time to the actual disaster, and, though I did savor the end, its message and meaning, I cannot forgive its first two thirds. What a shame. With more time away from the incident, a few years after maybe, the film could’ve developed into something, perhaps grand, complete even, more careful in its treading with both sympathy and objectivity. This one came too early.

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