Eiga Sai 2014: HOMELAND Movie Review

Set in Fukushima after the Great East Japan Earthquake, the story revolves around a family who fled the area in pursuit of a safer place to live in outside of the now considered uninhabitable Fukushima land.

Long-lost connections found and that of the desire of one to go back and live to his HOMELAND once again….after all those years.

homeland-2
Director: Kubota Nao Screenplay: Aoki Kenji

Synopsis:

After  the disastrous post-nuclear accident in Fukushima that left the place off limits for residence, Jiro (Matsuyama Kenichi) comes back to their hometown, tending their family’s discarded farmland.

With his mother Tomiko (Tanaka Yuko) living together with his half brother Soichi (Uchino Seiyo) and sister-in-law Misa (Ando Sakuraat some place far, Jiro comes back alone in their farm, toiling the land, unmindful of the dangers the radiation exposure could cause him.

He’s alone and has no intentions of building back the connection he had with his family which was severed 20 years ago.

REVIEW:

What I think is the better way to start off this review is to point out certain fundamental facts on the main cast’s characterization. Let’s start off with:

Jiro Sawada – younger half-brother of Soichi, smart, reliable and ‘respected’ by their father as attributed to his interest in the family business and legacy – farming.

Soichi Sawada – the first son and older brother of Jiro but who considered himself as the less favorable one of their father. Jobless at the time of the story which can be attributed to his lack of interest (and skills) to anything else other than farming.

His reference to himself being the less favored one between Jiro and himself also reflects a certain degree of inferiority complex to his brother despite being the older one.

Misa – Soichi’s wife who’s working as a hostess (for the lack of a better term) as means to provide food for their family.

Tomiko – Soichi and Jiro’s mother who seemed to be having some sort of recurring problems with disorientation and memory loss. She had previous relationship with another man and conceived Jiro as a result.

Themes 

Jiro Sawada (left) and Soichi Sawada (right) talking about going back to their homeland
Jiro Sawada (left) and Soichi Sawada (right) talking about going back to their homeland

What I think are the central themes of this story are ‘family’, ‘self-identity’ and ‘loyalty or attachment’ to one’s homeland as clearly manifested on Jiro’s motivation to stay and live at their town.

Family because despite being separated from them for 20 years, Jiro still hasn’t forgotten them. Just like how he was able to remember exactly the same words his late father used to say in public in one of those political campaigns years back.

Just like how he never forgets the  art of farming as taught by his mother. While a huge part of the movie hasn’t been about them being together, it was clear that the tie they had before it was broken has great and deep roots no time or disappearance could falter.

Then there’s self-identity which was largely depicted (I believe) on Jiro’s decision to come back to Fukushima.

It was established that he’s smart. He’s bold, honest and knows exactly what he  his beliefs mean. Though at one time in high school when asked on their Social Studies class on what they could do to protect the environment, he ended up answering:

Humans should disappear.

Which in turn silenced everyone.

He later on stated though that he didn’t mean that to happen just like how the great quake took a lot of lives.

For the last 20 years where he disappeared and left their area, he never found something that could make him stay for good. It was only through coming back to their farmland where he finally decided that yes, he’s staying for good.

Loyalty and attachment to one’s homeland is likewise reflected on this decision. Though Jiro didn’t speak much of it aside from that one time when he talked about how ‘the mountains and the fields are calling out to me’

It sounded poetic but it reflected a deep sense of attachment to the place where he came from.

This is despite his claim (when he was still in high school) of how he hated the place.

Prevailing Issues

There are 4 things (questions for this matter) which came to mind the moment we finished watching the movie:

  1. Why did Jiro leave everything he has (and will have) just to stay at a place that promised nothing more than contaminated water radiation-exposed lands?
  2. Why can’t the police officers force Jiro out of the area?
  3. What exactly is Soichi thinking by allowing his wife to work at a hostess sort of job?
  4. Is it true? Are the people coming from Fukushima have this sort of stigma on them?

homeland-3

1st: It was said that Jiro was smart, that he was reliable and respected. So if he wills it, opportunities in some other cities (Tokyo for instance) is never far-fetched.

The movie also established Jiro’s headstrong personality as shown in his refusal to leave his hometown even with the police telling him so. He’s got a lot of opportunities ahead of him so why?

Why will he leave everything for a place which is technically a danger zone?

I’ve entertained thoughts about the dominant themes (loyalty and attachment to his homeland) but I still find it hard to understand his motivation (I’m assuming there’s  something else).

For a person who’s got so much to tell and show the whole world, choosing seclusion and solitary sounds so….tragic. Strangely, I  found myself admiring the beauty of this irony.

I could cry for what could be wasted opportunities he threw away but at the same time, I can just slap him hard on the back and say; “You did great bro!”

2nd: Police has been cordoning the area, making sure that no one gets in beyond where they consider as the safety zone. Yet Jiro managed to slip through.

Security issues? Probably. But even if they manage to catch Jiro in the act of toiling his land, they did nothing more than to warn him about the dangers of staying there!

I mean, c’mon! If you’re serious about safety issues of the people, shouldn’t it be ordered illegal to be there so they can just forcibly pull out anyone who’s on a mission on absorbing radiation?

Right?

3rd: I just can’t seem to fathom how sick it is for Soichi to allow his wife to work and sleep with other men. Not finding any other job isn’t an excuse I think.

And this is again a societal issue which I would rather discuss at a separate post and not here.

4th: On the course of Misa and Soichi’s conversation, it was made apparent that there’s this sort of fear for them and for their kid Naho in the issue about bullying and discrimination – as part of them being residents of Fukushima.

It got me thinking. Is this really happening in Japan? I haven’t read reports about this but what if?

Technicalities

I’d like to touch on how the story’s presentation appealed to me in general. Basically it’s a narration.

At some point I found it bland and lacking in the emotional appeal that would have been drawn out from the characters’ lines. There are scenes which could have been placed with a striking more emotion-provoking dialogue but were left undeveloped or purely flat statements.

The actors are great. But they lacked great lines. And it somehow limited their chance to act out their characters even more.

There are also a lot of cuts in between scenes. It’s like:  just when he’s about to do or say something real important, the director decides to cut it off and shift to a different scene. I find myself frowning several times, wondering why they keep on doing that.

I’m not sure if it has something to do with style or director Kubota’s background in T.V. documentary, but I don’t think it worked that much in catching everyone’s attention and pulling out the sympathy viewers would have had on the characters.

The Verdict

Now here’s the strange part.

Because while I do at some point saw the movie as boring, I can’t help but say it’s a BEAUTIFUL one.

Jiro carrying his mother Tomiko on a piggy back as they went back together to their homeland
Jiro carrying his mother Tomiko on a piggy back as they went back together to their homeland

It was mundane and plain but I like it. It’s not a must-watch but I’d certainly love to watch it again (which in fact I’m going to do on the replay this Sunday evening).

There is something in the movie (which perhaps can be attributed to the real-life, documentary style of presenting it) that I find beautiful, even heartwarming at the end.

It might have lacked the potential to explore the dynamics of each characters along the way, and  failed to present some exciting and dramatic scenes we might have been looking for from a post-Fukushima disaster story, but it was fine.

It’s beautiful. I couldn’t stress this enough. It could have been Jiro’s facial expression at the end which really struck something in my heart, or the beautiful sceneries contrasting the danger of the place….I couldn’t point out.

As I’ve said it’s strange. It’s beautiful.

Now why don’t you go ahead and watch it yourself?

 

 

 

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