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Toronto (AFP) Sept 10, 2012
Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono pulled audiences this week into a family's suffering in the wake of a nuclear meltdown, showing haunting real scenes of Fukushima in his fictional drama "The Land of Hope."
The film -- entitled "Kibou No Kuni" in Japanese -- premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, North America's largest film festival, which runs through to September 16.
Sono shot on location in a deserted Fukushima after last year's quake -- which triggered a tsunami and a meltdown in a nuclear plant -- to stand in for his location, giving the film a startling, documentary-like veracity.
He captures the struggle for survival, but without using any potentially exploitative real-life footage from the disaster itself, which killed 19,000 people. No special effects. No bodies littering streets.
The acclaimed director of "Cold Fish" (2010), "Guilty of Romance "(2011) and "Himizu" (2011) says a fictionalized account of this tragic story can touch audiences more deeply than a straight-forward documentary on Fukushima.
He argues that the fictionalised account might allow the audience 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 in 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 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 pregnant Izumi however is plagued by paranoia, unconvinced her new home is safer from airborne contaminants (one scene shows her in bright yellow 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 energy firm Tepco's 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.
Japanese officials had initially played down the accident. But fears of radioactive releases would eventually lead to a 20-kilometer (12 mile)-radius evacuation around the plant.
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."
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