Movie that examined nuclear risks draws new audience

August 21, 2012


SENDAI--Can one predict disasters? A documentary film that some consider did so is showing again in cinemas across Japan.

"Ashita ga Kieru: Doshite Genpatsu?" (Tomorrow is disappearing: Why the nuclear plant?) examines the risks from nuclear-plant radiation. It was made 22 years before the triple meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The movie follows a housewife who seeks answers after the death of her father, a nuclear power plant engineer. She visits people related to the nuclear industry and questions them.

Moviegoers feel it strikes a chord, but the cast and crew report mixed emotions.

* * *

Makiko Kasai lost her father to bone cancer in 1984. He was a thermal insulation engineer. He worked on the piping around nuclear reactors, and had been involved in construction and inspections at most of Japan’s nuclear plants. He was 52 when he died.

The 26-year-old Kasai found a book in her father’s study which described the effects of radiation exposure.

She discussed it with her mother and found that they shared suspicions over the cancer.

Troubled by the possible connection, Kasai wrote a letter to The Asahi Shimbun for publication.

"Whenever my father saw newspaper and television reports about anti-nuclear power protests he would insist: 'Nuclear plants are safe,' ” she wrote.

She recalled the broken look on his face as he was admitted to hospital. “I guess I may never be able to return to this house," he said.

* * *

The letter caught the eye of film producer Noriyasu Hirakata. He had worked under Kaneto Shindo, a critically acclaimed director known for “Genbaku no Ko" (Children of Hiroshima), and "Daigo Fukuryu-maru" (Lucky Dragon No. 5), which relates how a crew of Japanese fishermen was inadvertently exposed to extreme radiation in a U.S. nuclear test in 1954.

After the 1986 Chernobyl disaster Hirakata became determined to use the big screen to spread awareness of the risks of nuclear power.

He approached the then 26-year-old Kasai. She agreed to take part, on condition that the movie respected her father’s work. She was anxious not to dishonor his contribution to Japan's power plants.

Shooting began, and the production team followed her across Japan. She visited nuclear plants, interviewed workers, and probed their feelings about radiation exposure.

In Fukushima Prefecture a doctor examining nuclear-plant workers confirmed Kasai's suspicions: radiation exposure was, he said, the likely cause of her father’s cancer.

* * *

Kasai is now 49 and lives in Sendai, where she works at home repairing leather jackets.

The Fukushima disaster prompted authorities to keep all the nation's nuclear reactors idled once they were shut down or taken offline for maintenance or safety inspections to see if they could withstand a powerful earthquake and tsunami. Currently all but two of Japan's 50 reactors remain offline.

Kasai reports mixed feelings about this.

"Nuclear plants employ people. Those jobs are critical to families," she says.

"I hope (the government) will gradually reduce (the number of the nuclear power plants) while it protects people’s livelihoods."

* * *

Since the March 2011 disaster, the documentary has been screened at 20 or more locations.

Official inquiries have accused Tokyo Electric Power Co. and state nuclear regulators of complacency and mismanagement.

In light of this, one movie scene resonates particularly strongly.

An ex-engineer describes his work helping to design the plant's No. 4 reactor. He alleges there were defects in its construction, which were then covered up.

Looking back, the movie director says he feels helpless.

"I have a sense of resignation that the film didn't do any good," Hirakata said.

He gave the movie its apocalyptic title because he wanted to deliver a stark message: once an accident occurs, he says, people’s lives will be lost.

(This article was written by Akira Nakamura and Tatsuro Sakata.)

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A scene from the documentary film with Kasai and her children looking at the Onagawa nuclear power plant. (Provided by Kansai Produce Center Ltd.)

A scene from the documentary film with Kasai and her children looking at the Onagawa nuclear power plant. (Provided by Kansai Produce Center Ltd.)

  • A scene from the documentary film with Kasai and her children looking at the Onagawa nuclear power plant. (Provided by Kansai Produce Center Ltd.)
  • Makiko Kasai, who 23 years ago sought the truth about her father's death, is pictured in Sendai. (The Asahi Shimbun)

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