Japan has needed a chronicler dedicated to tracing the roots of its nuclear tragedy--and it's found an old one in the form of Kikujiro Fukushima. Ninety-one years old and still shooting, the photojournalist is among the longest-serving in the profession.
A witness to immediate aftereffects of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Fukushima the photographer is the subject of a soon-to-be-released documentary that describes his path to Fukushima, the nuclear accident, which at his age can only be a natural close to a career of nearly seven decades.
“To be honest I’ve forgotten many things. But I can clearly remember what I felt and saw whenever I pressed the shutter,” says Fukushima, who has exposed more than 2.5 million negatives over his time. Among them are images of atomic bombing victims, discriminated Koreans, members of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, bloodied student protesters, and residents fighting the forced building of Narita Airport--mostly from the 1950s to 1970s.
More recently, he's photographed farmers living near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Directed by Saburo Hasegawa, "Nippon no uso" ("The Deception of Japan," although no official translation has been decided) takes its time to tell the story, beginning from Hiroshima and weaving to the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The 114-minute film biography was previewed in Tokyo on March 22, with the photographer in attendance.
Fukushima’s first photo series to earn him fame, for example, shows the misery of Sugimatsu Nakamura, an impoverished, enfeebled Hiroshima survivor, as he tried to raise his family for years. Although sympathetically depicted, the subject’s motive for posing was actually Nakamura's form of protest.
"One day, Nakamura sat upright in front of me and said, 'I want you to do something for me. I can't die like this, take revenge for me. Take photos of my family and show them to the world,'" Fukushima says in the film.
Although Fukushima thought he’d grown close to the man and his family, one of the children yelled at him when he tried to visit after Nakamura's death.
In photographing the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, prolonged protests against the building of a nuclear power plant in Iwaijima, Yamaguchi Prefecture, and the SDF, Fukushima exposed normally unseen activities.
The photographer was assaulted several times, and his photos were so incendiary his house was set on fire. His daughter risked her life rescuing his negatives from the flames.
She sat beside him during the screening. When the lights came on, the normally talkative Fukushima was in tears as he faced the audience. "I can't speak right now," he said.
The documentary is expected to be released nationwide in August.
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This article was originally posted on March 22, 2012.
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