As he alluded to in his previous film Himiko, the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011 had a deeply traumatic impact on the nation of Japan, but it also clearly made a big impression on Sion Sono as a filmmaker. Land of Hope deals with the subject a little more directly than Himiko - even if there are some characteristically quirky touches from this director - in order to make the important point that vital lessons haven't been learned and that Japan is in danger of ignoring the very serious risks that the disaster has had upon the nuclear power station at Fukushima. Land of Hope creates a fictional town called Nagashima for this purpose, but the implications of this merging of the towns Nagasaki and Hiroshima are all too apparent.
The focus of Land of Hope is not so much on the immediate impact and devastation caused by the next earthquake however, but the aftermath. Here, mirroring the absurdity of the response to the Fukushima meltdown, the authorities answer here is to set up a hopelessly inadequate "exclusion zone" perimeter that is as useless as it is arbitrary. As one of the people affected here furiously observes, how can one side of a street be dangerous and the other side not? It's not as if the radioactive contamination is going to respect a few barriers and some menacing threats at the perimeter signposts.
It's also a useful division for the director to exploit and he examines how people on both sides of the divide are affected, one couple on the wrong side of the exclusion zone sent to a temporary shelter where they are given no information about their home and relatives, while another young couple in the supposedly "safe" area decide to leave their parents right on the edge of the zone and seek a safer place to start a family. What seems to worry Sion Sono most however is the fear of the people to confront the reality of the situation. The government can't be trusted and give misinformation about the extent of the nuclear leaks, while the public are reluctant to be seen as responding hysterically for fear of spreading further panic.
If it were a mainstream movie, you might think that some of the director's techniques were a little heavy-handed, but this is a Sion Sono film and this is a director who will use whatever means necessary to make an impression, and here he has every reason to do so. "Why aren't you worried?", screams Yoichi to his fellow workers who make fun of his wife's paranoid response to her pregnancy by wearing a heavy-duty radiation suit and sealing up doors and windows. This is one subject that Sono is very serious about, and he makes the point very strongly indeed. The very real threat of ignoring or underestimating the danger is still there to see in the mud ghost-towns of the Japanese coastline, and the director makes powerful use of the images - scored to the Adagio from Mahler's 10th - which are more surreal than anything that can come from the mind of Sion Sono. Well, almost...