Sunday, July 01, 2012

[Japanese Film Festival 2012] Fukushima: Memories of the Lost Landscape

Ground Zero

This documentary by Yojyu Matsubayashi made its premiere in this year's Hong Kong Film Festival amongst a number of films that deals with the triple disasters of an earthquake, tsunami and the risk of a nuclear fallout all rolled into the month of March 2011, and film, as a medium, becomes a key form in which images of the harrowing damages caused by the disasters, got transmitted worldwide in almost real time with the hundreds of clips and news reels made available. I missed this film in Hong Kong, and am mighty glad that the Japanese Film Festival had programmed it into its lineup.

Matsubayashi crafted his documentary in the first person perspective, beginning with his experience of the earthquake in Tokyo, before deciding to make that trip to the northeast, as close to ground zero as possible where the Fukushima nuclear plant reactor 1 is threatening to go off, with the imposition of evacuation zones radiating 20-30km outwards. He joins the Tanakas who were helping those who were forced to evacuate their homes, and becomes a volunteer of sorts with his camera in tow, capturing stark images during which was only 3 weeks after the deadly tsunami swept inwards.

There are enough moments here in the film that will touch, such as an elderly husband and wife couple whom they encounter who haven't evacuated by virtue of their relative immobility, and the comical, playful nature of the husband who shares his penchant for sake. It is this little episode that demonstrates the wider social attitudes of the Japanese that I'm sure many around the world would admire, and seek to emulate. That stoic ability to stare at the face of an aftermath of a disaster, and of loss both material and personal, is something that sticks, and really gives real meaning to making lemonades out of the lemons that life dishes out once in a while. There's hardly any dramatic complaints or wallowing in self pity, but plenty of resilience on display, and that defiant, never giving up attitude that defined a people united in getting through this ordeal.

And picking up the pieces is never easy, especially when through Matsubayashi's lenses, one gets to witness the scale and magnitude of damage down across a landscape that was once bustling with life. Standard interview segments with survivors and evacuees form the bulk of the documentary as he follows and chronicles their lives over a period of some weeks, and we learn a lot more through the listening of anecdotes. What made it all the more harrowing was the filmmaker's venture into the exclusion zone to provide an almost first hand encounter of how the landscaped looked like within, with a constant threat always enveloping the filmmaker as he journeys closer.

It somewhat fizzled toward the end with the lack of a strong finish, but I guess that's reflective and mirroring how recovery usually is, that it doesn't come with a magic silver bullet to solve all ills, but gradually, over time, that pieces get picked up, never forgotten, but perhaps being laid to rest as communities and lives get rebuilt. There are other documentaries about similar subject matter from different viewpoints given the scale of impact, but perhaps one can start with this one, before branching off to others, such as the other film that's also shown during this year's festival. Recommended!

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