3/11 and Nippon Connection: A Look Back

With the 5th anniversary of the events of March, 2011 having now come and gone, 3/11 will be one of the central themes of this year’s Nippon Connection. However, this will ultimately be nothing new for attendees of the festival, since films about the tsunami and nuclear meltdown have been major parts of the program ever since the first festival following the disaster. As such, we felt it appropriate to take a moment and look back at the key works premiered at Nippon in past years, each of which has taken a unique viewpoint or approach in examining how individual lives, culture, and society in Japan as a whole has been altered since those awful days 5 years ago.  


Going Against the Grain in Fukushima (Masaki Haramura)

In 2009, Masaki Haramura began working on this project about a group of farmers growing organic rice in the village of Tenei, in the Fukushima Prefecture. The initial success of their products was overwhelming, but then everything changed after the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Far from depicting naïve sentimentalism, Haramura presents a highly relevant portrait of strong-willed people striving to do good.

Hikaru Suzuki Special (Hikaru Suzuki)

This special event viewing looked at the career camerawork of Suzuki, especially how the disaster in his hometown of Fukushima has become a leitmotif that runs through many of his works. Like words and language, he arranges images in patterns that give them new meaning otherwise not apparent or noticeable.

Little Voices from Fukushima (Hitomi Kamanaka)

Much like Chernobyl before it, Fukushima has now become a synonym for the dangers of nuclear energy. Director Hitomi Kamanaka used this film to analyze the parallels between the two disasters, travelling to the affected regions in Japan and Belarus. Throughout it, she tries to let the voices of mothers and children be heard, since they are often lost in discussions about both tragedies.


Kesennuma, Voices. 3 (Yukihiko Tsutsumi)

This TV documentary accompanies Yuki and Sho Ikushima to their father’s hometown of Kesennuma, which had become a symbol of the tsunami catastrophe. Both realistic and hopeful, they ask inhabitants about their ideas for better disaster management and about their dreams and plans for the future, including projects related to their hometown.

The Connecting Bridge (Ayako Imamura)

Eleven days after the Tohoku earthquake in 2011, deaf director Imamura visited the affected area of Miyagi to document the situation of deaf people there over a period of two years and four months. The resulting film shines an important light on a minority often ignored by the government and regular news coverage.

Fukushima (Hiroshi Kanno)

Going all the way back to the 1960’s, when the nuclear plant inn Fukushima was first constructed, this film provided a powerful and compelling portrait of one local family, highlighting the impact of nuclear power on daily lives across four generations.

The Horses of Fukushima (Yoju Matsubayashi)

A special group of horses used in an important annual festival in Fukushima were almost lost entirely after the nuclear disaster, suffering from massive radiation exposure and being initially abandoned after the place was cordoned off. However, some of their caretakers returned and began to slowly nurse them back to health. The documentary’s director accompanied them on their journey of recovery.


The Land of Hope (Sion Sono)

Two years after Japan’s nuclear disaster that followed the massive earthquake, Sion Sono entered the realm of science fiction to present us with a post-catastrophe drama, working to keep the audience at a distance so that the actual events depicted appear like inconceivable fiction that could never possibly become reality.

More Fukushima (Hidenori Kato)

In an alternative future, Japan has abolished nuclear power generation by 2021 and instead generates electric power using mushroom-miso soup. And yet, despite this alternative effort, another nightmarish accident occurs, possibly suggesting that means are often made irrelevant by unavoidable ends.

Odayaka (Nobuteru Uchida)

When Saeko is abandoned by her husband on the day of the catastrophe in March 2011, she soon realizes she has other problems as well. Her worries about radiation begin to isolate her from everyone else around her as well. As she starts to voice her concerns about radiation at her daughter’s kindergarten, she is harassed by the other mothers. Kiki Sugino is powerfully convincing in her role as a mother facing discrimination by society during difficult times.

A2-B-C (Ian Thomas Ash)

Eighteen months after the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, this documentary work features children in the surrounding areas that had begun suffering from severe nose bleeds, and had developed skin rashes and thyroid cysts. Citing a lack of transparency in the official medical testing of their children and the ineffectiveness of the decontamination of their homes and schools, the children’s mothers had by this time begun to take radiation monitoring into their own hands.  One of Ian Thomas Ash’s first works, this film was honored that year with the Nippon Visions Award.  Ash would return to Nippon two years later with a new documentary, -1287, which received the Visions Audience Award.


Fukushima: Memories Of A Lost Landscape (Yoju Matsubayashi)

In the first film of a series about the effects of 3/11, Matsubayashi follows the experiences of people from the Enei district, which was part of the 20 km exclusion zone evacuated after the plant meltdown. Housed in a school-building-turned-refugee center, the film mixes humorous episodes with deep reflections on the lives and local culture lost because of the tragedy. The movie went on to receive a special mention from the awards jury.

Fukushima Hula Girls (Masaki Kobayashi)

The Hawaiian Spa Resort in Iwaki, Fukushima prefecture, was heavily damaged by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake.This documentary accompanies their famous Hula dance troupe during their tour through Japan and shows the rebuilding of the resort. The film team also goes with one of the dancers to her former home in the evacuated zone near the Fukushima I nuclear power plant.

No Man’s Zone (Toji Fujiwara)

This unique work depicts the experiences of a man wandering through the 20-kilometer exclusion zone around the nuclear reactors at Fukushima. It is a complex reflection on the relationship between images and fears, on being addicted to the apocalypse, and on the ravaged relationship between man and nature. It ultimately concludes that, in order for the zone to be decontaminated and returned to the people, nature itself will have to undergo an amputation.  

-Noah Franc

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