Sunday, September 18, 2011

Needing to believe it is safe (part 2)

When I think about the open doors and windows in the schools and homes of the people of Minamisoma, I ask myself what the alternative is. Even the use of air conditioning during the oppressive heat would only serve to pull in more radiation from the outside. There just doesn't seem to be an easy solution.

Another big change that we saw compared to April was the number of homes where laundry and futons could be seen hanging outside to dry (the use of dryers in Japan is not common, and people typically hang laundry and futons outside to dry). In April, people had been cautioned against this practice due to the airborne radioactive dust particles. Yet now, laundry hanging outside to dry is a common sight.

Yuka helps hang the laundry outside.

Yuka helps her mother hang the laundry outside. Although a plastic roof protects the clothing and bedding from 'black rain', the wind blows freely across the balcony.

Laundry and futons hang outside to dry at a house in Minamisoma.

There isn't an easy solution to this problem and my intention here is not to criticize or judge. I understand the desire to put the potential danger to their children out of sight and out of mind. However, simply choosing to ignore the potential danger and pretending that everything is ok, only creates a sense of apathy toward the problem.

I don't want to think about the potential health risk to the thousands of children in Minamisoma either. But what is the alternative? To not think about it, to not let it rule our lives?

By not thinking about the harmful affects of radiation on the children, by not allowing this problem to rule our lives, will this protect the children?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Needing to believe it is safe (part 1)

I have been in the city of Minamisoma this week. It has been six months since the events of March 11 and five months since we filmed our documentary about the children returning to school in the radiation zone 30 km from the damaged nuclear power plant.

Because of the airborne radioactive particles and 'black rain', in April there were strict rules- especially regarding the school children. Children were to wear long sleeves, hats and face masks. The children were to wash their hands and change their clothes immediately after coming in from outside.

The danger from the radiation and its unknown consequence was constantly in the minds and on the tongues of the all the people we met.

This week, however, we saw a very different mood in Minamisoma.

We were struck by the school children walking around freely without masks and in short sleeves and shorts in areas that were recently deemed so dangerous that the people living there were under orders to stay indoors. Although the children were not to play outside, we saw two little girls playing outside and bouncing a ball between them... their unmasked faces breathing in the potentially radioactive dirt their ball kicked up.

And because of the heat, the doors and windows of the elementary school were wide open, allowing the breeze- and anything it carried- to blow freely through the corridors and classrooms.

The doors and windows at the elementary school are wide open.

The windows in all the classrooms are open.

Though these children are still driven to school, they go without masks and in short sleeves/ shorts.

At first, I couldn't understand how people who had been so concerned in April about how much danger their children were in could be seemingly so oblivious to the potential threat in September. But as one parent I talked to put it:

We can't live in a constant state of fear. We need to believe that it is safe and that everything will somehow be ok.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On the road again.

Editing on my documentary about the children of Minamisoma is going well and we hope to 'lock picture' (that is, finish editing the story of the film) this month. We will still have the colour grading and sound design left, but the end is in sight.

To help with this last leg of the journey, my UK producer/ camerman, Colin, is coming to Japan and arrives tomorrow morning. We will drive straight from the airport to Minamisoma where we spent a couple of weeks filming in April. We have three goals for going there this time:

1. To thank the participants and show them the film (and get their feedback on it).
2. To record some local music to possibly use in the soundtrack of the film.
3. To see how the city is getting on/ has changed since we were there just one month after the explosion.

Hopefully, I will get a chance to film/ post on my YouTube channel some updates about how things in Minamisoma are now. I hope to at least post some photos and written accounts here.

Then next week, Ed, an editor from the UK, will join us in Tokyo to help finish the edit.

It is a busy time, but it is when I am working on a film that I feel truly alive. Thank you all for your support and encouragement.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten years and six months.

September 11 and March 11.

Hard to remember life before those dates.

Harder still to imagine where we go from here.

The only way is forward.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The week in news.

Although it will be six months tomorrow since March 11, Jonathon Watts reminds that "it's not over yet" (Guardian, Sept 9, via @justinmccury)

Making a painstaking decision, a "family with young children chooses to stay in radiation 'hot spot' district" (Mainichi Daily News, Sept 9, via @44de256)

And finally, this 6-minute news documentary: "Six months after radiation leaks from the nuclear plant led to their evacuation, residents of nearby towns briefly return" (Guardian, Sept. 9 via @justinmccury)

Friday, September 09, 2011

Mystery Man (part 3)

I wrote earlier in the week (here) about the mystery man who was seen on the live cam at the damaged Fukushima Dai 1 Nuclear Power Plant.

To be honest, I am not sure why I am so fascinated about this 'happening', but it could be that I just love a good mystery or that it is sometimes easier to focus on the surreal than on the real- ie: what is happening to the children living in the radiation zone.

Well, Tokyo Times has just unraveled part of the mystery (here). (And not to ruin the ending, but it looks like it wasn't the group of artists known as Chim Pom as I had been secretly hoping.)

The man has come forward (albeit anonymously) presenting his intentions in a bilingual blog (here).

I would LOVE to interview this guy.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

"No safety limit for radioactivity...only different levels of acceptable risk."

Nearly 6 months on, there are many questions left answered, and still so many questions yet to be asked.

"David Boilley of ACRO: The Zone", Katuyoshi Ueno's interview with David Boilley, a nuclear physicist and the chairman of ACRO (a French NGO with a nuclear testing laboratory) that was published yesterday by Papersky, begins to ask some of those questions.

Ueno-san starts by asking an important question: does the government's stated goal of allowing people back into the evacuation zone make sense? Boilley answers this and other questions in a level-headed and intelligent way... sometimes almost too level-headed and intelligent.

For example, when he is asked about the Japanese government's 20 millisievert limit for radiation exposure for the people of Fukushima (this is the same limit as that for a nuclear worker), Boilley points out that there is a difference between what would be considered "normal" exposure to radiation and what is "realistic" under the current circumstances. While admitting that an 80 km exclusion zone would be necessary to stay within the internationally accepted limit of 1 millisievert, he also notes that this would simply not be possible.

The problem, he states, is that "1 millisievert is not achievable. 20 millisieverts is too high." The readers (along with Ueno-san) have already come to this same conclusion on their own and are perhaps looking for a more concrete solution. Unfortunately, Boilley simply ends his answer by quipping that "fortunately, I'm not a politician who has to make such a decision." Gee, Boilley, thanks for the help in figuring out this problem.

Ueno's questions address so many of the issues we are grappling with on a daily basis: from the affect the release of contaminated water into the ocean will have on marine life and how the radiation may affect the rest of the food supply to how the issues of radiation hot spots affect the people of Tokyo.

This article is essential reading.

(disclosure: Katsuyoshi Ueno is my personal friend and colleague.)

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

'Trip'ping Away from Reality

For months after March 11 I felt as though things would never get back to 'normal', meaning the way they had been. "We will find a new 'normal'," I had thought. This new 'normal' would not include unbridled fun or the spending of any unnecessary money.

It hasn't worked out this way exactly; there is fun again and I do splurge from time to time (although it is usually on a new piece of filming equipment for work). Saying that, there aren't any days that I don't think about what is happening up north, especially in Fukushima. And there isn't a delicious piece of fruit or a cold glass of water that I don't wonder how much, if any, radiation is in it.

In my blog post "Director for Hire" last week ( here) I talked about filming promotional videos as one of the ways that I earn money to help pay for my documentaries, such as the one I am currently making about the children of Minamisoma who are living in the 30 km radiation zone around the damaged nuclear power plant.

Since yesterday, I have been in Yamanashi filming one such promotional video for a hotel and hotsprings resort, the first commercial filming work I have done since March 11. For many reasons, including its relative distance from Fukushima and the fact that more Japanese people are traveling closer to home rather than abroad since March 11, Yamanashi has seen an increase in the number of visitors this summer.

Yamanashi is known for its natural onsen mineral baths and weather condusive to growing many kinds of fruits (grapes, cherries, peaches, persimmons and more). During this short trip filming, I found myself wondering which life of mine was reality- the one where I make documentaries about issues that I really care about or the one where I do commercial work for money?

The answer? Both. This is my new normal.

In the vineyard with the Stedi-cam operator, Tak-san.

Fresh peaches.

Poolside wine service at the onsen resort.

Chocolate fountain on the dessert buffet.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Two Rad Films

I have been enjoying Twitter in a way I could never have imagined. It doesn't have to be the banal chatter that some people associate with it. In fact, it can be quite the opposite. The group of people that I am following have been such a great resource on news events and current topics, as well as a source of encouragement for my work.

Through Twitter, I have recently been introduced to a couple of films. Last night I watched "Blind", a beautifully photographed and produced short fiction film directed by Yukihiro Shoda. It has been made available online by its director, and the film's Vimeo page (here) describes it like this:

The film is set in post-nuclear Tokyo in a dimension not so distant from ours. Young salary-man's morning commute takes a surreal turn.

This 5-minute film will have you thinking for ages. (Coincidentally, the film's climax takes place in front of Taro Okamoto's mural "Myth of Tomorrow" which I blogged about yesterday.) Click on the still below to watch:

(Added Sep 7: Thank you to V, who blogs at Distant Land here, for bringing to my attention this great interview with the director and producer of "Blind" that was published by Time Out Tokyo. Interview here.)

@ikrockhopper tweeted awhile back about the short documentary film "Chernobyl Heart" (2003/ 40 minutes/ produced by HBO films) which won the 2004 Academy Award for best short documentary. The film, by director Maryann DeLeo, had a cinema release here in Japan last month. This documentary follows the director as she meets parents and children affected by the Chernobyl disaster years after the accident. "Chernobyl Heart" left me with more questions than answers, but I recommend seeing it... if only to be reminded that there is always another part of a story to be revealed. Here is part 1 (parts 2 and 3 can be found on the page to which you will be forwarded).

(Note: I have a problem with films being made available online by people other than the author so I am torn when it comes to linking to videos that may be in copyright violation. But with tens of thousands of views, I can only assume the copyright holder is aware of this upload and has chosen not to take action.)

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Mystery Man part 2

Well, Twitter is aflitter with different theories about the Mystery Man at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

Is the video real? Has it been edited?

A very interesting discussion of the man's exact whereabouts was posted today by Tokyo Outsider:

One theory that is floating around about the man's identity is that he could be an activist or performance artist. If this was accomplished by an artist, one very cool group of artists that could pull something like this off is Chim Pom. (Note: I am not suggesting that they did do this, I just think they are a group that could do something like this).

Chim Pom pulled off a very cool public "guerrilla installation" where they added a section referring to the Fukushima nuclear disaster to Taro Okamoto's mural "Myth of Tomorrow" which is diplayed in Shibuya Station. I found a great description of the unaltered mural written by Shane Sakata for The Nihon Sun:

Taro Okamoto (1911-1996) was a citizen of the world whose much lauded abstract mural “Asu no Shinwa” (Myth of tomorrow) mural depicting the horror and destruction of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will be unveiled to the public in Tokyo’s Shibuya ward on November 17th 2008.

This massive work was Okamoto’s largest, measuring 30 meters in length and 5.5 meters high, and was originally commissioned in 1967 by a Mexican property developer. The piece was displayed in the lobby of a luxury hotel until the developer had financial troubles and was forced to sell the hotel in 1969. Myth of tomorrow subsequently went missing and was not found until 2003.

After being returned to Japan, Myth of Tomorrow was displayed at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo from April 27, 2007 to April 13, 2008. The piece was then dismantled and moved to a corridor linking the Shibuya stations of the JR and Keio Inokashira lines where it will remain on permanent public display starting on November 17th, 2008.

More on Chim Pom can be found on their website. It looks like they are facing legal action for defacing the mural, although their work did not damage the original. They filmed their exploits at Shibuya Station, which can be seen here:

Chim Pom also filmed a video one kilometer from the damaged nuclear power plant. In it, they paint a Japanese flag to look like a nuclear symbol.

This video art by Chim Pom is featured in part 3 of the web series Japan Rising:

Art, while being peaceful and respectful, can invoke thought and discussion. I say:

More paintbrushes, less war.

Mystery Man

Who doesn't love a mystery?

Last week, watchers of the Live Cam at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant were surprised when a man in a protective suit walked into view and then appeared to speak to the camera FOR 2o MINUTES (!). A speeded up version of this 'happening' was posted to YouTube and has now been viewed over 400,000 times.

I first found out about this strangeness on Twitter via @tokyorich, a journalist with the Tokyo Times which published this article about my film a couple of months ago.

The man's actions (he is moving his arms about and is holding something that hasn't been identified yet) are weird enough, but the fact that Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) hasn't been able (or is unwilling) to identify him is stranger yet. The man's uniform doesn't have the usual identifications on it so TEPCO is claiming they don't know who he is. And this took place in the restricted zone in the immediate plant vicinity!

Theories are plentiful as to who the man is: a whistle blower, a performance artist, a ghost (!). More information can be be found in the description for the video (scroll down for the English) here and in this blog entry.

In the mood to be weirded out? You have been warned:

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Time to re-'boot'

I am still struggling with doing the compression of my film. I LOVE the story part of filmmaking... it's the technical part of editing that I find difficult.

In the meantime, I took my mind off things for a little while today by watching this documentary that I found via @hikosaemon (who in turn found it via @earthquasar ... oh, the power of Twitter!).

The 5-part web series is young, hip and was funded by a manufacturer of boots (!). The producers of the film describe it like this:

Tokyo faces a new reality after the tragedy of 3/11. While persistent challenges still lay ahead, the city’s creative class is hell-bent on making sure that their hometown thrives. Innovative and resilient, they are defining the future of Tokyo on their own terms. We put our boots on and went exploring.

It is a very interesting and certainly different point-of-view of the events of March 11.

Oh, and warning: it contains bad words(!).

Part one is linked below and the other four parts can be found on the page you will be re-directed to.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Depressing Compressing

I LOVE editing. Well, I love the 'story' part of editing; the part where you go through the 40+ hours of footage finding the parts of the story and all the details that contextualize it to form the narrative.

What I don't love (and incidentally what makes me not a *real* editor) is the technical part. All the technical settings, capturing/ exporting files, etc. This is the part that drives me crazy and I feel it zaps some of my creative energy.

How frustrating it is that I have finished the newest version of my film and I can not get the file I need to send to the UK to compress fast enough! It has been compressing for 17 hours and shows that it has nearly 40 hours to go... for a 100 minute film! Obviously, I am doing something wrong.

My choice: cancel the compression and try to find a faster solution but risk losing the 17 hours I have already waited OR hurry up and wait (perhaps another 40 hours).


Thursday, September 01, 2011

Focusing on the story of HOPE

Today, I came across the 'Kickstarter' page for what looks to be a very powerful and moving documentary film by Stu Levy that focuses on the re-building of Ishinomaki City. "Pray for Japan" is a much bigger documentary than mine, and Stu is trying to raise funds to help finish his film. With only 3 days left in his campaign, time is running out to help support this beautiful documentary. More information can be found here on Stu's 'Kickstarter' page. His trailer is here:

Some of you may remember that Ishinomaki is the first city I filmed in up North, soon after the tsunami. In case you missed those pieces, here they are: