“Fukushima: Memories of the Lost Landscape,” a film documenting the tsunami and earthquake disasters’ aftermath, starts out like a web cam video blog, showing filmmaker Yojyu Matsubayashi in his Tokyo apartment some 140 miles away riding out the shaking and aftershocks.
It poignantly turns to document the loss of human lives and a way of life, including the stories of the tsunami’s rural survivors whose surroundings have been destroyed.
The sold-out screening was part of the “Reality Bites” section of the Hong Kong International Film Festival. Matsubayashi’s film, made in 2011, began when the freelance video journalist brought relief supplies to Fukushima. He ended up staying in order to understand what the survivors were going through.
The longer he stayed, the more he witnessed different stories unfold. His immediate, on-the-ground footage captures the tragedy, as well as the dignity, resilience and bravery of the evacuees.
In one scene, Matsubayashi accompanies Mrs. Tanaka, a dedicated city councilwoman, inside the 20-kilometer zone of Okuma town, where the Daiichi nuclear plant is located. They find that several homes have been vandalized and stop to feed horses and dogs that have been left behind. The footage of the devastation is interspersed with cherry trees and hydrangeas bursting into bloom, heedless of what nature has wrought. Mrs. Tanaka observes that they can cope with the tsunami as a force of nature, but not with the nuclear radiation. A city councilman sadly recalls that only the local Communist Party opposed the construction of the nuclear plant.
One old couple didn’t evacuate because the husband was taking care of his wife, who could only crawl. Without water or electricity, they were barely surviving by burning charcoal to keep warm and drinking sake. Mr. Kuma‘s request for more sake was an unexpected note of humor. Viewers learn that Mr. Kuma has since been committed to a hospital with dementia.
After the screening, the filmmaker said that he’s working on a sequel, focusing on the nuclear plant workers’ experiences and, interestingly, the tragedy as seen from the point of view of horses. There is a long tradition of horses in the Fukushima area, particularly in agriculture and Shinto festivals. After 1970, and the conversion to farm machinery, the animals became expensive pets. In fact, many locals worked for the plant in order to pay for the upkeep of their horses.
It will be interesting to see what Matsubayashi’s sequel shows in this continuing saga. In October 2012, Tokyo Electric Power Company admitted that radiation leaks have not yet fully stopped. Meanwhile, the hundreds of courageous nuclear plant workers who stayed behind to bring the reactors under control (although the news media dubbed them the “Fukushima 50”) have received no awards, recognition or appreciation. In fact, there has been anger and animosity aimed at them, according to the BBC documentary “Inside silent Fukushima ghost town.”