It’s hard to write about 3.11 from this side of the planet. I watched the horrors on television, Ustream, and Twitter just an hour or so after attending an after event for an exhibition by James Jean, where I stood when I heard about the quake and tsunami. Like 9.11, you’ll remember what you were doing and who was around when you heard, and like with most, I experienced the devastation virtually.
Living just a few blocks away, I’ve known filmmaker Shunji Iwai for a bit over a year as he was working on projects outside of Japan. He often discussed his life in America that didn’t include a need to work in Japan any time soon. Over many meals, he talked about the quake and had powerful views of how dangerous the radiation was for Tokyoites and of course the surrounding areas of Fukushima. Depressed, he was positive that if he was in Tokyo, he’d have moved far away as should everyone else. He knew the media was lying. He newly established an office, staff, had a completed film “Vampire,” and before I knew it he left America nearly overnight for Osaka.
I’ve often wondered how my neighbor was doing. Just the other day I ran into him on Facebook. He messaged me that he’d send me his film about 3.11. I only loosely heard of his project and expected something that would be cinematic – in his way. It’s not. At least that’s what I thought at first. By the end, it is. It’s more of what can be thought of as a text book on film that’s heavy with interviews. As you’d expect there will be scenes of wreckage, but what Iwai captures is also his own experience that he shares with his new friends including a young girl activist. He too is experiencing the scenes, explanation and people as you are when you watch it.
It’s not cinematic in a sense that he’s not trying to sway your emotions with pretty shots, but you are pushed deeply into understanding what 3.11 means from angles of indie media, nuclear plants, locals, professors, involved actors, and more. I was most touched by a professor in Kyoto who’s remarks about the children affected by the radiation was especially touching and only then does his film crescendo into something that I could see crafted by Iwai’s hands. It’s all in the last last few minutes that you realize his artistic vision for this film.