The impact of the Fukushima nuclear disaster will feature in the Forum section of the Berlin Film Festival opening Feb. 9 with premieres of three documentaries by Japanese filmmakers.
"Nuclear Nation," a documentary directed by New York-based Atsushi Funahashi and produced by Documentary Japan, follows residents of the town of Futaba, 3 kilometers from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, over a 9-month period.
Their lives were turned upside down by the magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, that claimed some 20,000 lives and triggered the crisis at the nuclear plant. As the situation at Fukushima No. 1 spun out of control, many were relocated to evacuation shelters in Saitama Prefecture, more than 200 km from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The town’s government was forced to follow.
One of the key characters in the film is Futaba Mayor Katsutaka Idogawa, once an active supporter of the central government's policy of promoting nuclear power generation, who found himself desperately trying to save a community scattered across different emergency shelters.
In one scene, he takes part in a meeting of representatives of local governments that had accepted nuclear power stations. He tells his colleagues: “It’s frustrating. Honestly, it’s humiliating. Until now, what were we believing in? Why did we bother trying to improve our town?”
He continues: "We used the subsidy money to carefully maintain our town's infrastructure, and we've left it all behind. Was the money put to good use? What were we thinking when we accepted a nuclear power plant into our community? I think about it day and night."
Like other communities that host nuclear facilities, Futaba, with a population of about 6,900 people, ended up being dependent on subsidies from the central government and failed to develop other industries.
In late summer, a selected group of evacuated residents was allowed to return for a few hours to their homes, or what used to be their homes. It was the first time since Futaba was designated a no-entry zone at the start of the nuclear crisis they had been allowed back.
The film shows one of the men repeatedly cursing “chikusho!” (damn it) as he walks quickly around the remains of his house, reduced to nothing more than a bare foundation.
“I can't stop the tears," he says.
Director Funahashi says displaced people like the Futaba residents have been "short-changed," forced to fend for themselves as nuclear refugees.
"Japan had been promoting nuclear power to its people for over 40 years, giving it a major role in the nation's energy policy," he says.
"And on March 11, the system backfired. … What about our homes? What about our jobs? It's impossible to know when the answers to these basic questions will come. These refugees have had their lives put on hold and they must not be forgotten. It was this strong urge that propelled me to pick up a camera and go," he says.
Throughout the film, the Futaba mayor often displays anger and frustration toward the central government. In one scene, he says: "It's not like there's been any real effort, you know, to do any decontamination work or anything. We haven’t even got to the stage where the government has done everything that is possible and has run out of options. The government is already trying to buy up our land. What kind of reasoning is that?
"The people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki are living there. I won't let Futaba get wiped off the face of the Earth. The feelings of people who have had their homes taken from them and are living in the shadows has become painfully obvious to me.”
Toward the end of the film, the mayor says: "The power plant only did us 40 years of good. In those 40 years, Futaba went in the wrong direction and accumulated a lot of debt. I've been thinking about the pros and cons of nuclear plants. I don't know what kind of reparations TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Co.) has in mind, but we have to take back what we have lost. Just covering the damage isn't enough. We won't benefit in any way."
He added: "Our town's image is down the toilet and then there's discrimination, too. Children and their young parents are saying they won't live there anymore. That means families are uprooting themselves.
"And now, I realize that the cons (of nuclear power) far outweigh the pros. I've come to think that it was wrong to invite the nuclear power plant into our lives."
The closing theme for the 140-minute film was composed by composer and musician Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Two other Japanese documentary films focusing on the Fukushima disaster will also be presented at the Berlin festival: "No Man's Zone," directed by Toshifumi Fujiwara, and "friends after 3.11," directed by Shunji Iwai.
“No Man's Zone” was shot in Fukushima Prefecture after the nuclear accident and takes the viewer on a journey around the landscape near the Fukushima nuclear power plant, introducing its inhabitants.
The documentary "friends after 3.11" explores Japan’s present and future through the director’s friendships and conversations with people he met after the 3.11 disaster, including Hiroaki Koide, an assistant professor at Kyoto University's Research Reactor Institute who opposes the use of nuclear power.
All of the three Japanese documentary films will be featured in the Forum section of the Berlin festival, which focuses on film essays, political reportage and avant-garde or experimental work.
The official site for Nuclear Nation is http://nuclearnation.jp/en/.
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