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Kibô no kuni (The Land of Hope)

Posted by martinteller on June 23, 2013

An earthquake has struck Japan, and a nuclear reactor in the district of Nagashima has been compromised.  Just inside the 20 kilometer radius deemed to be the danger zone lives the Suzuki family: Ken and Meiko (Denden, Mariko Tsutsui), their son Mitsuru (Yutaka Shimizu) and his girlfriend Yoko (Hikari Kajiwara).  The Suzukis are evacuated and at the refuge, Yoko frantically searches for her parents, who live in an area hit hard by the quake.  Across the street from the Suzukis lives the Ono family.  Yasuhiko (Isao Natsuyagi) is a farmer raising cattle and looking after his wife Chieko (Naoko Ohtani), who suffers dementia and believes she’s 21 years old.  Also present are their son Yoichi (Jun Murakami) and his wife Izumi (Megumi Kagurazaka).  As the hazmat-suited authorities are erecting a barrier across the Suzukis’ front lawn, they tell the family that being just steps away from the 20 km zone is safe and they can stay.  However, Yasuhiko urges his son and daughter-in-law to get away.  But even far from the disaster area, Izumi develops severe radiophobia when she learns she is pregnant and goes to extreme measures to protect her unborn child.  Back in Nagashima, the government has decided that maybe the Suzuki household isn’t so safe after all, but Yasuhiko refuses to leave, unwilling to upset his wife’s fragile mind or abandon the roots he has planted there.

This is a surprisingly conventional film from Sion Sono.  The extreme, absurdist sex & violence antics of movies like Love Exposure, Suicide Club or Cold Fish is nowhere to be seen.  Though there is some humor in Izumi’s paranoia and Chieko’s obliviousness, it is for the most part a very sedate drama, a straightforward reaction to the real-life Fukushima disaster without many outré flourishes.  Considering that Sion’s next upcoming film is titled Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, I don’t think this signifies that the director is drifting towards safer, mainstream fare.  But it does have a certain blandness to it.

Still, it’s pretty effective and shows that Sion can work in a more sedate style if he so chooses.  The trials of the Ono family are quite engaging, humanistically insightful and frequently moving.  Kagurazaka and Ohtani both turn in absolutely stellar performances.  Especially Ohtani, who has a hint of heartbreaking awareness behind the barrier of her mental affliction.  Natsuyagi is very endearing as well, struggling to maintain a calm dignity in the face of his biggest fears being realized.  The story of Yoko and Mitsuru is given far less screen time, to the point where it feels like an underdeveloped distraction, but there are a couple of fine moments in it.

Some of the symbolism is rather blunt.  At one point it’s literally hammered into the viewer.  The fictional location of “Nagashima” is a blatant portmanteau of Nagasaki and Hiroshima… too blatant.  And the inclusion of the Suzuki thread makes the movie feel overlong (though the actual running is far less than the much more captivating Love Exposure).  But the film is still a worthwhile watch thanks to the lovely performances, solid dramatic development, and a satisfactory helping of touching and/or visually intriguing scenes.  I just hope Sono hasn’t abandoned his directorial flair.  Rating: Good (78)


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