- The Land of Hope:Planetary Cartographies of Fukushima, 2012
In his 2012 film The Land of Hope (Kibō no kuni), the Japanese director Sono Shion presents a cartography of Japan caught in a messianic time between two ends, after a second earthquake has hit Northeast Japan. In this article, I analyze Sono’s movie as an exercise in cartographic writing that attempts to map out this singular topology of Fukushima, Japan, characterized by both the everyday insistence of the reality principle—“there is no escape!”—and a radical temporality of fictionalization asking us to live as if the patriarchal state and the national motherland had already died away.
Resonating with a variety of works, from the 1995–96 TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion to Tawada Yōko’s Fushi no shima (2012, The island of eternal life), The Land of Hope attempts to draw the map of a world that has lost any anchor in the present, where a human population in exodus is overexposed to the toxic atmospheres of a dying world.1 Borrowing Rosi Braidotti’s concept of necropolitics,2 I read The Land of Hope as a radical critique of the complicit discourses of globalization (kokusaika) and national consumerism in which Japan and the global world of nation-states try to contain the sickening atmospheres of Fukushima. I argue that by staging the catastrophe of Fukushima as a question of border making and disjointed temporalities, Sono Shion reopens a [End Page 17] space of fictionalization in which it becomes possible to experience, in the time that remains after the end, a planetary moment. Building on Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Ursula K. Heise’s work, I will show how The Land of Hope generates a planetary cartography characterized both by a radical alterity to the human and the impossibility of access to exteriority of any sort.3
Sono Shion is well known for his movies addressing contemporary social problems, in particular dysfunctional nuclear families, in a unique style combining erotic-grotesque situations with an exaggerated theatricality, claustrophobic interior spaces, and monumental landscapes. Suicide Club (2001, Jisatsu sākuru), Noriko’s Dinner Table (2005, Noriko no shokutaku), and the epic Love Exposure (2008, Ai no mukidashi) have received wide attention and critiques from both domestic and international audiences.4 The Land of Hope is unusual in Sono Shion’s filmography in that it is a major production with popular actors that needed multinational funding from Japan, Taiwan, and Korea.5 The movie is ambitious and the target audience wider, elevating Sono’s usual domestic drama formula to the level of a national drama. The Land of Hope can be seen as a follow-up to his 2011 movie Himizu, which told the story of a high school boy who killed his father after the Fukushima earthquake.6 However, where in Himizu the Fukushima catastrophe appears more as background for what could be a classic 1990s family drama, The Land of Hope, released one year later, focuses directly on the intricate ties after Fukushima between humans and the land, the state and the territory, the Japanese and Japan.
The plot of The Land of Hope is very simple, focusing on the Ono and Suzuki families. When a magnitude 9 earthquake hits the fictional prefecture of Nagashima, state officials come and arbitrarily establish a 20km perimeter around the nuclear plant. The Suzuki family, who lives inside this area, is forcibly evacuated, while the Ono family, on the other side of the made-up fence, can remain. The movie then follows the Ono family. The father and mother decide to stay in their homeland, a choice symbolized by the powerful image of the dying tree in the garden of the ancestral house (Figure 1), while the son and his pregnant wife decide to leave and find a place not contaminated by radiation. The movie concludes with the young Ono couple on a beach, realizing that radiation is everywhere, while the Suzuki son and his girlfriend, still in Nagashima, decide to get married in the middle of a field of ruins. [End Page 18]
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