A family of farmers in a small Japanese village are victims of circumstance when a horrible earthquake breaks out, which destroys a nuclear power plant near their village. All of their neighbors are forced to move as the are within the danger area. The goverment closes off the area, which goes straight through the family's garden, keeping their house outside of it. Now they have to decide if they want to leave their what has been their home for generations, or stay in their home and possibly get ill.
Sion Sono is consistently bringing us fantastic movies, some better than others, and this time he is back with something slightly different. "The Land of Hope" is based on true events - the horrible tsunami and earthquake in Japan 2011, but they went even further and based the story on a real couple that lived through similar circumstances as the ones in the movie. It's a respectable achievement of them to make this film so close to the disaster, and especially as it highlights the nuclear power plants that exploded - a very taboo subject in Japan. Here they have brought an actual event to the surface, and the terrifying thing is how close it is like a post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie.
The movie concerns a family consisting of an old father (Yasuhiko) and mother (Chieko) and their son (Yoichi) and his wife (Izumi). The mother is suffering from an illness which gives her memory loss, which means at times she can think she is still 21. When the disaster breaks out and the nearby nuclear plant explodes, their village is forced to evacuate. Everyone within a specific range has to leave instantly. This border goes straight through the family's garden, and their house is outside of the danger zone. This forces them to decide if they want to stay or get to a safer place. The father tries to force Yoichi and Izumi out of there, but has decided to stay with Chieko himself - it's all they have ever had, and the illness makes it all the harder. When Yoichi and Izumi finally leave, it is soon revealed that Izumi is pregnant. They are already concerned about the effects the radioactivity might have on them, but now that the baby is in the picture she becomes obsessed with keeping away from all radioactivity.
I'm not going into deep in the plot, but trying to highlight the important themes. There's no doubt that Izumi's story is often the focus, and especially the one that we care the most about because there is a baby involved (she also has the role of the scared/careful one, which makes sense). However, the movie perfectly shifts its focus when needed, and my personal story is possibly the father's struggle to stay in his beloved home with his ill wife. The movie overall is an extremely sentimental piece and can move you to tears. Especially as you care about all of these four characters equally. It's a very calm experience, but you always sense a hopelessness within the characters, and mixing these two takes you to some beautiful places. That much of this is based on reality just makes it even harder to take.
The movie is also wonderfully shot, going between the small village they live in, to places where families are forced to bundle up next to each other to live, and to the area of the nuclear power plant explosion. It successfully shows you a real life post-apocalyptic world and it finally becomes clear - this happened. They have captured the atmosphere of each place perfectly, and certain shots in the movie are nothing short of breathtaking.
Megumi Kagurazaka was amazing as the concerned Izumi - a true silent hero. She doesn't do much but she stands up for what she believes is right for her baby, and won't let anyone change that. The performances are remarkable, since both Isao Natsuyagi (the father) and Naoko Ohtani (the mother) bring the same caliber to their roles.
"The Land of Hope" is a more grounded side of Sono, and yet another testament to his skills as a director. It might not be my favorite work of his, but it's damn devastating, moving and eye-opening. A very real movie, but with a dreamlike atmosphere going through it. It's something you should definitely seek out - maybe it won't be for you, but at least you will have seen an important piece of work.