Nov 16

“Homeland” – Film Review from the 18th Japanese Film Festival (Australia and New Zealand)


Eden Law (ALT 2010-2011 Fukushima-ken) reviews one of four Fukushima-related films in the 18th JFF. A fun fact: Homeland was partially filmed in the city of Iwaki, where he lived and worked as a JET. It’s good to hear the Tohoku dialect ringing in one’s ears once more!


Heck no, we won’t go!

The spectre of nuclear contamination from the 2011 catastrophe in Fukushima casts a dark and long shadow in “Homeland”, as a rice farmer (Soichi), his wife (Misa) and child, and his mother (Tomiko), struggles to cope after being forced to evacuate from their farm. Meanwhile, his estranged younger brother (Jiro) secretly returns to the forbidden zone and begins to tend to the ancestral home and lands, preparing the fields to plant traditional crops. It’s a quiet, meditative, at times slow film, though tensions simmer below the surface, and while the film’s focus is mainly on the human drama, much of the cause of that drama comes from the worries and issues that evacuees still face, three years on after the worst natural (and arguably man-made) disaster in Japanese post-war history.

Director Kubota’s first feature film (he had been a maker of documentaries before this) is also one of the first released for the Japanese domestic market that focuses on the lives of evacuees. Considering that the credits list special support from acclaimed directors Koreeda Hirokazu and Suwa Nobuhiro, this is probably a problematic topic for a movie in Japan right now, and therefore needed all the help it can get to be made. And it’s certainly not a pleasant reality that’s being depicted: the living conditions in temporary housing are cramped and impersonal; jobs, for people with no other career than farming, are scarce, living them with endless days and stupefying boredom (though Misa resumes her pre-marriage career as an escort), and the Soichi worries about the discrimination their daughter might face when she grows up. The refugees experience a sense of restlessness and hopelessness, feeling abandoned by the government. Some reviews of the film have criticised it for not taking a harder, clearer stance on social and political issues, but considering the depiction of hardships these characters face, it would be unfair to accuse it of whitewashing or ignoring the problems that people like Soichi and his family face.

The performances in “Homeland” are quiet, just like the film, with most of the heavy lifting concentrated in the roles of Soichi and Jiro, though Tanaka Yuko’s performance as the increasingly addled and distracted Tomiko, is heartbreaking to watch. And though Kubota somehow was able to film some of the scenes in the movie in the main streets of actual abandoned towns in Fukushima, for the most part the movie looks pretty pedestrian and staid, and would have benefited from a director more experienced in dramatic framing.

However, what Kubota intended to show is the human emotional state and reaction to the disaster, rather than exploring anything ideological, and in this he is largely successful. There is a yearning by displaced souls, caught in perpetual transit, for a home, to retain their dignity and also, to assuaged a collective sense of guilt for fleeing their ancestral homes. Jiro’s actions, in persistently living and farming on contaminated land, is definitely foolhardy and ill-advised, but one can understand the resolve and resilience of his spirit, seeking to triumph regardless of the odds, to quietly rebel against the government in a way, by not abandoning a place that so many others have. A film like “Homeland” is still important, if it means keeping alive in the nation’s consciousness, the lot of the abandoned and the lost of Fukushima.


Homeland (Ieji) by Kubota Nao, released March 1 2014 in Japan, starring Matsuyama Kenichi, Uchino Masaaki, Tanaka Yuko, Ando Sakura and Yamanaka Takashi.

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