Before I share my thoughts about this movie, I will describe the story first. As usual, if you haven't watched this and would prefer not to read the spoilers, please skip this review.
Soichi who no longer can work as a farmer as a result of the crisis, keeps going to the police station to seek compensation from the authorities for contaminating his land and making it impossible for him to go home even though the people around him think that it's wiser for him to just take the compensation and make a fresh start elsewhere. This makes him frustrated as to why the people around him don't seem to understand what he's thinking. In addition, Misa who works in the health delivery service (i.e. providing sex services to clients at places such as love hotels or their homes) is a constant source of worry for Soichi who resorts to trailing her and even buying her services at times just to stop her from meeting her clients. Misa herself doesn't think that she is doing anything shameful as long as the money allows her family to survive and keeps reassuring Soichi that she won't stray or leave him for someone else. Even though Misa tries to persuade Soichi to move out of Fukushima so that they can make a fresh start, Soichi is reluctant to do so and gives all sorts of reasons to explain why he would not do so.
Back then, the brothers' father Senzo was running for election in the local town council. In a bid to please his father and hurt the opposition candidate, Soichi resorted to draining the water from the rice plantations of the opposition candidate. Even though Senzo was well aware that this was Soichi's doing and he thought very highly of Jiro because he was smart and a talented farmer, Senzo wanted to protect Soichi's reputation and made Jiro become the scapegoat. As a result of this saga, Jiro left home and swore never to return again. In actual fact, before this episode, Jiro was already not keen on staying in his hometown as he felt stifled living here with the constant attention around him due to his father's status. However, after the tsunami crisis, he suddenly felt as if the mountains and animals in his hometown were calling for him to return since nobody is living here anymore so he came back because he was finally feeling homesick. All along, Soichi had felt guilty about Jiro's departure from home but he was helpless to do anything then. It was only when the crisis struck and he had to leave the family home that he realised again that it would have been better if Jiro was around but he had no way of finding his younger brother and wondered if he was dead.
Understandably, this is a rather emotional film with two main topics i.e. the Sawada family struggling to make a fresh start despite it being a few years after the tsunami crisis and trying to patch things up after what happened many years ago as well as show the current state of Fukushima and bringing it to life what that crisis had meant to the people who originally lived there.
Meanwhile, although Jiro appeared to bear no ill will towards his brother for what happened, he could have resented the manner he had to leave due to no mistake of his. It might have been better if he had chosen to leave at a time he wished to. When Tomiko asked him in the past about how he felt about their hometown, Jiro clearly expressed his dislike for the place but it felt to me as if he didn't like the people there rather than hate the place itself. His father's political pursuits could have resulted in why Jiro didn't like that kind of unwanted attention. Besides, due to Tomiko being the second wife of Senzo, Jiro's status as the second son was somewhat not a very comfortable one for him. Although he was clearly more suitable than Soichi as the heir of the family, the birth order issue came into play. On the other hand, when you come to think of it, Jiro could have felt that being the scapegoat for Soichi was the perfect opportunity to leave his hometown so that's why he didn't seem to react too negatively to the idea when Senzo explained why he had to protect Soichi. However, the harsh reality of being thrown into the outside world and being unable to lead a better life than he did in his hometown was probably what made Jiro jaded and so weary of life that he came home despite the threat of radiation and having to bear with the loneliness of living alone.
As for Tomiko's situation, it was a reflection of how the elderly feel about their lives in their twilight years. The problem between Tomiko and Soichi was that they are not related by blood. Even though Soichi was not really nasty to Tomiko, there was an invisible wall between them. When Tomiko was having problems using the key to open the door, Soichi simply walked away because he thought this was better than flaring up at Tomiko. However, from Tomiko's point of view, Soichi holding back his frustration only made her feel more strongly that she was a nuisance and burden to him. There was no way Tomiko could share her worries with anyone and she could not see her own son Jiro. The double whammy of having to adjust to new surroundings and worry about her existence being a problem to her stepson could be what led to her developing symptoms of becoming senile. On the other hand, her interaction with Jiro showed that she was pretty much at ease with him and could even joke at times. Of course, it helped that she was back in the comfort of the family home but Jiro's presence was probably the best medicine for Tomiko after all.
Uchino nailed it as the frustrated and trapped Soichi who knew that he had to do something about his situation but he couldn't do anything about his anger and frustration. It was only till Jiro's return that he sort of saw the light and decided to move on. Imagine if he had never met Jiro again, things would have remained the same for him until the day things got to the point of no return or when he finally gets the idea that he can't be trapped in his old thinking anymore. The thing is, the latter outcome might not have materialised after all if Jiro did not come back. It was annoying to see someone like Soichi keep whining about the situation but not doing anything to change it but when you look at it from another perspective, his desire to be accepted by his father and to protect what his family had was his duty as the eldest son and he was seriously bogged down by this sense of responsibility until he could not see for himself what was best for him and his family. In this way, it's hard to blame Soichi for being so stubborn about resisting change.
Tanaka Yuko, being the veteran in the cast, had limited scenes actually but in the short time she appeared, she breathed life into the character of Tomiko and showed how a traditional woman like her was powerless to go against her husband when he sent her only son away for a ridiculous reason and how she had to depend on her stepson and be wary of stepping on his toes because she could not depend on Jiro. I thought she gave the character a lot of depth and provided the viewers with some much needed humour when Tomiko could answer some questions logically but her memory was stuck in the days before Jiro left home. Likewise, Ando Sakura did not have a very meaty role but her gusty portrayal of Misa who stood up to the challenge of supporting her family while her husband was still unable to accept reality was really commendable. There were two lines from her which I really liked and they showed the strong and logical mind of Misa i.e. when she refused to feel ashamed of her job because that helped her put food on the table and how she refused to feel inadequate or inferior to others just because she is from Fukushima. The people of Fukushima didn't cause the crisis anyway so why should they be fearful of other people looking at them differently just because of their origin? I thought these two lines were really full of impact and very memorable. In addition, I really liked her interaction with her mother-in-law Tomiko because they seemed to get along really well and it looked like Tomiko could afford to breathe a bit easier in front of Soichi when Misa was around.
In conclusion, I think that this is a very good film worth recommending to everyone but the pacing can get a bit slow at times even though it's largely bearable. The message of family relationships coupled with the sorrow of not being able to return to your homeland or it being different from the place will probably strike a chord with many people.
Story: 9 out of 10 (Very nicely-crafted story which had well-developed characters with a lot of depth. However, it could be better if the pacing was not dragged down with extensively long scenes of Fukushima's scenery. It might have been better to insert the scenery scenes at more regular intervals than to do it once in a long while and drag it on for too long each time.)
Acting: 9.5 out of 10 (Nothing much to pick fault with)
Theme song/BGM: 7 out of 10 (The BGM was largely on the slow side and had a tinge of sadness most of the time but nothing really stood out.)
Visual effects / Scenery: 8.5 out 10 (A great and realistic way to see Fukushima beyond the scenes from news reports and how time has stood still in those radiation-tainted towns. Can be a bit too sad to handle at times though)
Teamwork / Chemistry: 9 out of 10 (I liked the chemistry between the main cast members a lot and it was especially good that this was not restricted to just one or two pairs of characters)
Total: 43 out of 50