A deserted Fukushima devastated by a nuclear meltdown triggered by an earthquake and tsunami last year stood in for a fictional Japanese prefecture in director Sion Sono’s new film.
“Kibou No Kuni” (The Land of Hope) premiered this week at the Toronto International Film Festival, which runs through to September 16.
In his latest project, the director of “Cold Fish” (2010), “Guilty of Romance “(2011) and “Himizu” (2011) pulls audiences into a family’s suffering in the wake of the disaster that killed 19,000, without using any potentially exploitative real-life footage. No special effects, no bodies littering streets.
But some scenes were filmed on location with a deserted Fukushima standing in for fictional Nagashima prefecture to give the film a startling, documentary-like veracity.
The filmmaker says a fictionalized account of this tragic story is able to touch audiences more deeply than a documentary on Fukushima, allowing them maybe to come to terms with the “horrible reality… of living with radiation” without forcing people to “relive” the disaster of March 11, 2011.
“For the film, I spent six months researching Fukushima, I met with many inhabitants of the region,” he said in an interview with AFP.
“Japanese peasants are shy, but they opened up to me much more than they did with journalists who covered the disaster,” he said. Some of their conversations were used as dialogue for the film.
This is why, he says, perhaps the film might seem “more like a documentary than a feature film.”
“The Land of Hope” follows a farming family living a peaceful rural life until a nuclear disaster strikes.
Yoichi Ono (Jun Murakami), his wife Izumi (Megumi Kagurazak) and elder parents Yasuhiko (Isao Natsuyagi) and Chieko (Naoko Otani) face a terrible decision: stay and risk radiation poisoning, or go.
Out of concern for their unborn child Yoichi and Izumi reluctantly leave the family farm and relocate to a nearby city while Yasuhiko and Chieko remain.
The young pregnant Izumi however is plagued by paranoia, unconvinced that her new home is safer from airborne contaminants (one scene shows her in chemical/biological protective clothing while shopping for vegetables at a local grocery store).
Yoichi’s aged parents back at the farm, meanwhile, are pressed by authorities to leave, but Chieko suffers from a degenerative illness and removing her from familiar surroundings could exacerbate her already fragile condition.
Official reports were critical of the government’s and company Tepco’s emergency handling of the nuclear meltdown and releases of radioactive materials from the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant — the world’s largest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
The events are still fresh for many in Japan, says Sono, noting that he had to go to Britain and Taiwan to seek financial backers for the film.
Sono says, however, that he sees in the ashes of Fukushima emerging “hope.”
“One morning during filming within the 20 kilometer radius of the power plant I saw the sun rise,” he recalled. “The colors were magnificent. I told myself it was the dawn of a new day and life continues.”