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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
We Shall Not Be Moved
by Donald Levit

Schmaltz and obviousness do not mean that its heart is not in the right place or that the accusatory finger does not point in the right direction. However, The Land of Hope/Kibo no Kuni illustrates that “the Japanese provocateur” Sion Sono seems uncomfortable outside his métier of horror, blackish humor, sexual suggestion, and graphic violence.

The director’s screenplay derives from his own from-fact fiction about the earthquake-and-tsunami-caused Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown. Or, rather, about the aftermath of that 3/11/11 event in the disruption of the lives of common folk in designated danger areas and the incompetence, cover-up and self-serving misinformation of government and vested interests.

Clearly, the whole could and should have been handled more efficiently, humanely and honestly. Anger at those guilty of omission and of commission lies underneath but appears mild in focus on the remarkable restraint of these fictional representative characters powerless against forces so much stronger than they. Between husband and wife, between generations born and yet to come of families, between people and the land, between man and dumb animals, love is what survives and allows continuation into the unthinkable and beyond death. Compassion, solidarity and titular hope keep us going in spite of all They can do (and not do).

Shown the first of three evenings of Japan Society second-anniversary considerations of the calamity, Sono’s film centers on two generations of the Ono family with a third on the way.

Wise, calm, stubborn and deeply in love with now-senile wife Chieko (Naoko Ootani), patriarch dairy farmer Yasuhiko Ono (Isao Natsuyagi) has their son Yoichi and daughter-in-law Izumi (Jun Murakami, Megumi Kagurazaka) happily living and working with them. Nature’s part in the catastrophe receives no cinema showcase, nor is it important here. What does matter involves the appearance of men in protective radiation gear who refuse to give out information -- they know little, anyway -- while yellow plastic-ribboning off areas of Ohara within a twenty-kilometer contamination radius of the Nagashima Prefecture “Oba Town Famous Nuclear Power Plant.” Simultaneously, giving hardly any notice they bundle bewildered townspeople on the wrong side of the ribbon off to hastily set up, soon overcrowded and inadequate, cubicles in shelters.

Among those summarily displaced are the Ken Suzuki (Denden) family, including motorcyclist son Mitsuru (Yutaka Shimizu) and his girlfriend Yoko (Hikari Kajiwara, a Sono veteran like Denden and Kagurazaka). Annoyed that trees planted long ago by his grandfather and father are now across the divider in the forbidden zone, Yasuhiko refuses to cooperate even as he orders son Yoichi to depart with his wife. Like only the staunchest of Steinbeck’s Okies, he knows the authorities are not on his side or to be trusted, and he clings to the house, the tree he and Chieko planted at the beginning of their happy life there and her bed of pansies at its foot.

There is warning truth but also perhaps unintentional humor in pregnant Izumi’s paranoid insistence on a sterile bubble environment to protect the baby in her belly, replacing an earlier tag gesture of putting a finger on, or in, her nose. Appropriately, there is no attempt at cinematographic prettiness in this scenario of tradition and family facing real modern danger.

The subject is one for indignation and urgency. But despite straightforward no-frills treatment in The Land of Hope, nothing rises above the predictable ordinary. The story goes exactly where and how one expects. More distance might have resulted in better treatment.

(Released by Asian Crush; not rated by MPAA.)

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