[Film Review] THE LAND OF HOPE (Sydney Film Festival preview)

The Land of Hope

In the fictional town of Nagashima, an earthquake causes a devastating tsunami and damages a nearby nuclear power plant, leading to the evacuation of much of the town. Local farmer Yasuhiko Ono (Natsuyagi) and his family are initially considered safe from the subsequent radiation, but gradually the threat of contamination spreads and Ono must make some agonising decisions about the future for his wife, Chieko (Ohtani), son Yoichi (Murakami), and Yoichi’s wife Izumi (Kagurazaka).

The film’s title becomes suffused with irony as we follow these people and witness their struggle to find any hope in their situation. On the one hand, the media and the authorities wish to present Japan as precisely that – a land of hope. People are sick of feeling frightened, sick of being reminded of the legacy of radiation when they cannot see the danger. Ono, Izumi and eventually Yoichi are perceived as being paranoid. Meanwhile this supposed paranoia is set against the ruined landscape of Nagashima.

Concepts like home, love and family become increasingly distant as the invisible war of radiation rages, separating Ono from his son and daughter-in-law. There’s a definite shadow over this film, a sense of dread as palpable as you might find in any horror film. That this dread is tinged by reality (Ono’s son Yoichi and his wife move to Fukushima, site of a real life disaster similar to that in the film) makes it all the more pervasive. The final image is as chilling as it is beautiful.

The late Isao Natsuyagi is outstanding as Ono, sympathetic even in his darkest moments. As is Ohtani as Chieko, sharing a perfect chemistry with Natsuyagi. Their scenes together are among the film’s strongest.

The Land of Hope is one of those rare films that manages to be heartbreakingly beautiful and bone-chillingly terrifying all at once. If you see this film, you will cry all of the tears, but you’ll also feel incredibly grateful that filmmakers like Sono exist.

Written and Directed by: Sion Sono
Starring: Isao Natsuyagi, Naoko Ohtani, Jun Murakami, Megumi Kagurazaka

Reviewer: Sallie Pritchard