Blood — whether it pulls a family unit together or rips them apart with fears of radiation contamination — underlies the apocalyptic scenes of The Land of Hope, the first feature film to grapple with the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Life in fictional Nagashima seems idyllic until the arrival of an earthquake and tsunami that ushers in a largely unseen nuclear disaster. Dairy farmer Yasuhiko (Isao Natsuyagi) forces his son Yoichi (Jun Murakami) and daughter-in-law Izumi (Megumi Kagurazaka) to leave him behind, along with wife Chieko (Naoko Ohtani), who suffers from dementia; it's a sacrificial gesture that evokes 1983's The Ballad of Narayama's mash-up of filial piety and noble embrace of death.
Yoichi denies reality as vigorously as he can, until Izumi becomes pregnant and learns that their new home also reads high in radiation. Writ with an eye to psychological trauma rather than physical dangers, Sion Sono (2002's Suicide Club) has likely made his most ambitious film to date with Hope. It makes stirring use of exquisitely subtle images that imbue empty towns and blowing wind with dread; eerily surreal sights of a mother-to-be puttering around town in a Hazmat suit; and symbolism made literal, as when Ugetsu-like child phantoms materialize in wreckage from the waves.
Set in a country that prizes purity and conformity — and has a legacy of dealing with the aftermath of nuclear disaster — Hope may not leave you with hope, exactly. But it certainly imparts the expected horrors and unpredicted highs when the safe family home finds itself under siege, leaving on your mind's eye the shadowy imprint of a woman, dressed in her finest kimono, dancing to festival music only she can hear, in the snow near a contaminated town reduced to tinder.
March 14-24, most shows $12
Various venues, SF and Berk.