Land of Hope Review
Whenever the world is shook by something, it's disturbing to think about how quickly things go back to normal and people just accept their lot. In 2001, nearly 3000 people died in the attacks on the twin towers in New York. In the years since, far more have died in Afghanistan and Iraq and the return of a soldier's coffin now barely raises an eyelid, let alone news of bombings and mass murders over there. Similarly five years ago, Bankers tanked the global economy, resulting in food poverty, mass unemployment and the most enduring recession in living memory. Yet, life seems to go on despite the wrongness of all of this... and normal people just keep on living it.In March of 2011, a Tsunami in Japan led to a nuclear incident and the evacuation of all those living within an exclusion zone around the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Supposedly quake-proof, the plant still leaks radiation into the sea and the local area, which is almost entirely deserted. More importantly, lives were destroyed, families were uprooted and a community displaced.
Sion Sono's Land of Hope was inspired by those living on the edge of this exclusion zone, protected by an arbitrary line that necessitated neighbours on the wrong side of it being moved elsewhere. People living in deserted communities without shops or facilities, forgotten by the rest of the world that has decided to just get on with it as their patriotic duty. Focusing on two families divided by the exclusion zone boundary in a fictional Nagashima, Sono examines the literal and human fallout of a similar disaster after a Tsunami. Living just on the wrong side of the boundary, one family has to stay on their small farm whilst neighbours, living mere metres away, are bussed off to processing centres.
Within both families, young and old experience a fissure with the young moving on to new lives and searching out lost relatives. This leaves the older members stuck at the evacuation centres or at their deserted farm. Sono explores all of this loss, the guilt and the simple desire to hold on to what you have, contrasting this against the nonsense of the masses who choose to believe the assurances of those who allowed the incident to happen.Using a very conventional vehicle for Japanese cinema, the experience of the family, Sono's film is a lingering heartbreaking fable for our times. There are few outlandish moments and any humour is very wry as the director concentrates on the melodrama and the sheer injustice of his people's experience. Any vitriol is reserved for those who return to complacency so quickly and forget the changed reality around them.
The core of the film is the older Onos and their loving existence; Mum is entering dementia and Dad is trying to hold a life together for her whilst not asking too much of his now departed son. The conclusion of the film had me in angry tears as these decent, admirable people have their peace destroyed by arbitrary authority and the new radio-active world they live in.Owing a little to the great heritage of the family dramas of Ozu and Kurosawa's I Live in Fear, Sono's work is a superb humanist piece. Carefully composed with a passionate narrative and a real honest empathy for people left powerless by unreliable authority. This is a magnificent film screaming on behalf of the displaced, desperate to ensure they are forgotten no longer.
Third Window release this great film on a region free BD50 disc with a few trailers of their other releases, and a main special feature of a substantial making of documentary. The documentary is in HD with lossless stereo sound, made by Motoki Fukami. It follows Sono as he visits Fukushima in the year before making this film and his discovery of a family living just outside the deserted exclusion zone, before moving through the release of the film. This is no publicity puff piece, offering real insight into Sono and showing just how quickly Japanese politics tried to forget the Fukushima incident.
The main feature is transferred at a rate of 23.98 frames per second, and presented at the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The naturalistic appearance of the film is well reproduced and evidence of edge enhancement or filtering is thankfully absent. This is not a stunning transfer, nor was it intended to be, and the level of detail, colour balance and black levels are very good considering this.Sound options include an unfussy lossless master audio track and decent, removable English subtitles with good grammar. The master audio mix is nominally a 5.1 mix, but the basic use of the rears is for some shadowing and mixing of effects for atmosphere, and the naturalism of the action justifies such a straightforward mix. Clarity of reproduction is solid and the music is particularly effective.
A terrific movie is given a strong release by Third Window. If you're a fan of classic Ozu or something like Tokyo Sonata, you will enjoy this greatly.