Sunday, December 11, 2011

A time for reflection.

Christmas and New Year are coming soon. Today as I was thinking of loved ones far away, I remembered March 11 was 9 months ago today.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Today marks eight months since March 11.

How much is recovered?

How much is left to be done?

How many questions are still left unanswered?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Extra-curricular Viewing

First, this 5-minute PBS report from August 16th (via @44de256):

Five months after the deadly tsunami and Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, Japanese authorities have acknowledged that they misled residents about the radioactive dangers. John Sparks of Independent Television News gets an inside look at the area and reports on how citizens are dealing with the ongoing risks.

Second, this 3-minute clip of Germany's 'Today' show which is an attempt to deal with the idiocy and bureaucracy of the handling of the nuclear meltdown through humour. Be sure to click the "CC" button for English subtitles (via @Shogannai):

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

3.11 Films

We each have our own way of trying to work out our thoughts and feelings about things that are not easily understood.

Seven months after the triple disasters of March 11, the first films about it are starting to appear.

One such film, "311", premiered recently at the 16th Busan International Film festival in Korea. The documentary was shot by four director friends shortly after March 11.

Survivors often act with a mixture of horror and fury when they see the cameras capturing their grief and Mori said the team was constantly forced to question just what they were doing -- documenting or intruding.

This year's Tokyo International Film Festival (currently taking place) features 3 films about the events of March 11 in a special category, "Overcoming the Disaster".

"Overcoming the Disaster" showcases three films related to March 11, and any money raised from the category goes toward TIFF's "Arigato Project" fundraiser for Tohoku. But the support goes deeper than just financial aid. TIFF is using the festival's unique program to acknowledge support from the international film festival community, and provide a bit of hope in stressing how far Tohoku has recovered since the slew of catastrophes.

In an interesting project organized by the Sendai Short Film Festival 2011, sixty directors have created short films 3 minutes and 11 seconds in length that will be programmed together. One section of this project aired last night on satellite television here in Japan.

The films will be three minutes and 11 seconds in length to symbolize March 11, when the disaster struck northeastern and eastern Japan... The directors were asked to make movies on the theme of "tomorrow" to inspire hope for the reconstruction of the devastated region.


(added October 27th via @japantimes)

The documentary "Mujo Sobyo" recently held its North American premier in New York.
Shot 50 days after the earthquake on the coast of Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, the film captures the ravaged landscape and the voices of survivors calmly recounting their memories of the twin disasters. But the film purposely does not reveal the exact location or the names of the people and their backgrounds.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Discovery News: guest blog #8

I am honoured to receive continuing encouragement from Discovery News with the publication today of my 8th guest blog.

In case you missed any of the previous ones, there are links to them at the bottom of the blog on the Discovery website.

Thank you all for your continued interest and support during these seven months!

Monday, October 24, 2011

A breath of fresh (radiation-free) air

I came across this video (via @silverstar22b) and it put a smile on my face and allowed me to escape to a different world for its five-minute duration.

Beautifully shot. Great music. An amazing protagonist.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fukushima Fallout: life on the edge of the evacuation zone

This is a new 5-minute news documentary by Justin McCurry, Japan correspondent for Guardian and Observer (more here) and filmmaker Michael Condon (more here).

It was filmed in Minamisoma City, most of which lies in the zone 20-30 km from the damaged nuclear power plant in Fukushima.

I posted this team's previous video (here).

Monday, October 17, 2011

In the Radiation Zone: Revisiting Minamisoma (part 3 of 3)

I have just uploaded Part 3 of our "Revisiting Minamisoma" update. In case you missed it, more information on Part 1 can be found here and on Part 2 here.

While this marks the end of the update Colin and I filmed in Minamisoma in September, we have already filmed the next update which I will start editing next week.

We are going to be filming the stories of the people of the north and sharing them with you until they recover. We hope you will be watching and thinking of them for just as long.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Shoot, "The Fallout", and "The Japanese People"

The Shoot

I am just back from shooting the 6th episode of my television documentary program, "Tadaima, Ian Desu!" (more on that here and here). It was beautiful weather in Tochigi Prefecture, which is located just south of Fukushima. There has been a lot of negative impact on the area as a result of radiation fallout, with some farms going bankrupt and the tourism industry suffering falling numbers of visitors.

My program, however, focuses on the local people and their stories (the concept for it was conceived prior to March 11), so the filming for me is a welcome relief from the work I am doing in Fukushima. It isn't that we ever forget what has happened or is happening... it's just that we still have hope.

The opening of this month's program was filmed at a Meiji-era (late 1800's) wooden elementary that has now been turned into an art museum (more on the current exhibit here and more on the museum's mission here).

The second segment we filmed was with author and cancer-survivor Fujita Katsuko at her beautiful home in the mountains. Katsuko-san wrote an inspirational book about her fight with cancer. Cancer-free for over 15 years now, she is more active than ever- playing tennis, taking art and tea ceremony classes and hiking in the mountains every week!

After the interview, Katsuko-san honoured the four-person film crew with a traditional tea ceremony in her garden overlooking the beautiful rice paddies and mountains of Nakagawa Town.

I am already looking forward to next month's escape to Tochigi to film with more beautiful people in the gorgeous countryside.

"The Fallout"

This week's recommended reading on the nuclear situation here in Japan is this article from the New Yorker (via @HirokoTabuchi). Please lick on the article to go the New Yorker website to read the article and see the accompanying photo essay.

"The Japanese People"

This week's recommended viewing is this video called "Nihon Jin" (The Japanese People), a ten-minute documentary about Japanese people working for Honda at their facility in Alabama (via @hikosaemon)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

In the Radiation Zone: Revisiting Minamisoma (part 2 of 3)

Today marks seven months since the March 11 triple disaster.

The title of this article in yesterday's Mainichi sums up my feelings after visiting Minamisoma last month (click the headline for the full article):

I have just posted part 2 of "In the Radiation Zone: Revisiting Minamisoma". In it, I interview people who have recently moved from evacuation centres into temporary housing.

Full recovery from this disaster was never going to happen in seven months. I just pray it doesn't take seven generations.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Weekend Update

It was a three-day weekend here in Japan, with Monday being a national holiday. I have kept busy working on the plan for film festival submissions for my new documentary and also editing the three-part "Revisiting Minamisoma" series I am doing for my YouTube channel (here). I have just finished Part Two and am doing the compression now, so I will upload that in the morning (if you haven't already seen it, Part One is here).

I will be going to Tochigi tomorrow (coincidentally, just south of Fukushima) to film an episode of the monthly documentary series that I am doing for a cable TV station there (more on that here). This is the 6th episode we have filmed and there will be three more in series one. It is in Japanese, but here is the page for the program:

Thursday, October 06, 2011

In the Radiation Zone: Revisiting Minamisoma (Part 1 of 3)

I've been silent for a couple weeks as we have been nearing the end of post-production on our (still un-named) feature documentary about the children living in the 20-30 km zone around the damaged nuclear power plant in Fukushima.

Producer/ cameraman, Colin, and online editor, Ed, (both from the UK) joined me in my Tokyo studio last month as we fine-tuned the film. The next step is the online/ colour grade and sound mix, and then we will start film festival submissions.

Meanwhile, Colin and I traveled again to Minamisoma last month (six months after the nuclear meltdown and five months after we filmed the documentary there) to see how the city is getting along now.

Here is part 1 of 3 that update, In the Radiation Zone: Revisiting Minamisoma

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Thyroid Irregularities Found

One of our biggest fears for the children living in the radiation zone around the damaged nuclear power may be becoming reality. More tests need to be conducted, but thyroid abnormalities have been found in some of the evacuated children.

(Thank you to @44de256 for bringing this article to my attention).

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:

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Anime Jay

I had a wonderful meeting today with fellow ex-pat and artist Jay Horinouchi (aka @Jaykun) about creating an animated sequence to open my new documentary. Understandably, Jay needed to first watch the film to see if it was a project he wanted to work on.

We talked about the film for a couple of hours after he watched it, but the short version of our conversation is: He's on board!

After he works on his ideas for the opening, we will have another meeting next week to talk more specifically about how the animation will look, etc. And meanwhile, I still have a LOT of work to do before I can officially say that we are through the 'rough cut' stage and into the 'fine cut'. But even still in its rough stage, Jay really seemed to interact with the material and I was so honoured to hear his reaction and feedback.

Colin and I are so excited to be working with Jay and to welcome him to our team.

Jay blogs (here) and you can see his showreel, here:

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

No news is... well...

I have been busily working on the PAGES of notes I have received from Colin, my producer in the UK. This is the stage where we start turning the 'rough cut' of our documentary into a 'fine cut'. The story of the film is now solid and we are working on the transitions between scenes and the overall pace of the film. Also, we are securing an artist to do an animated sequence and a composer to score the film. That is about all the news on our documentary.

Meanwhile, in Japan there has been LOTS of news. Or was that just lots of prime ministers? Yes, our 6th prime minister in the past 5 years (!). Yes, really. This is a great example of "truth is stranger than fiction".

Speaking of news, I will end this post with a couple of articles. The first is about a group of moms in Yokohama (south of Tokyo) who have formed a group to monitor the radiation level in their children's school lunches.

And here is an excellent article by David McNeill for the independent.

Friday, August 26, 2011

iPen and iPaper

Technology never ceases to amaze me.

I started working on my first documentary, "the ballad", eight years ago. We shot in the UK, but in the middle of post-production I had to return to Japan. Our UK editor would burn DVDs (!), send them through the post (!) and then I would give her my notes on the phone (!). Eventually we reached the limitations of our system and I had to travel to the UK a couple of times toward the end of post-production. Even still, at the time I remember that we thought we were so modern, doing the edit in different countries.

Since then A LOT of things have changed and we no longer use DVDs through the post (we send compressed data over the internet) and we Skype rather than phone. This week I have had a couple of such viewings and meetings with our team members in the UK. They are a world away, and yet it is like having them in the studio here in Tokyo.

One thing that hasn't changed for me, though, is the 'paper edit'. This takes a different form each time for me, but this time it has manifested itself in the form of a wall full of sticky notes. Each of these notes represents a different scene or piece of the narrative of the film. Physically moving them around on the wall is the only way I can envision the story; it just isn't something I can do on the computer.

To work and edit a film, I need all the modern tools: iMac, iPhone, iPad. But to get the narrative right, I first need my good old iPen and iPaper.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

So many people to thank!

I have always thought it was obnoxious when people talk about how many 'friends', 'subscribers', or 'followers' they have.

But now that I can't resist the urge to note that I now have 200 subscribers to my YouTube channel, I realize that it is not about self-promotion; it is about recognizing and thanking all of the people who have supported and encouraged me.

So thank you- all of you who have helped to support and encourage me through these last 5 months!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Director for Hire

Making documentaries is like having a drug addiction. And like an addiction, I sometimes have to do things I might not normally do to support the habit. Like, for example, make promotional videos (gasp).

Today I had a meeting at a very posh hotel and hot springs resort outside of Tokyo. I directed a short promotional video shot with a stedi-cam for them last year. The result can be seen here on the hotel's website (push play on the movie icon to see the video).

This video was delivered in standard definition and now they have asked me to come back to re-shoot some of the areas of the hotel that were re-furbished over the summer and to deliver a longer version in high-definition.

We all have a price. And mine enables me to pay the rent while working on the documentaries that I really care about.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Not just 'I(an)' in 'Team'

Over the past five months, I have received such wonderful support from so many people around the world. They have thanked me for the work I have been doing to document the situation here in Japan and have encouraged me to keep working. Recently it has occurred to me that I haven't had much time to talk about some of the other people on our team who have made this film possible, so I would like to briefly introduce just a few of them here.

Colin O'Neill is my cameraman and producer. On my YouTube channel, he is the guy I am talking to in all of the "Children of Minamisoma" videos. In April, one month after the nuclear meltdown and explosion when so many foreigners evacuated from Japan, Colin got on a plane from the UK and came here. Not only did he come here, he traveled with me into the 30 km radiation zone to document what was happening to the children living there. Colin is my filmmaking partner, working as an adviser on my first film ("the ballad") and shooting/ exec producing our second film ("Jake").

Ed Ison is a producer and editor in the UK. He will be grading/ colouring/ onlining the film. (Basically this means that he will be giving our film its "look" and fixing all of the mistakes we made during filming). Typically, an online editor would be brought in after the film was already edited, but Ed is also a friend and adviser and has been part of the filmmaking process all along, giving advice on everything from technical issues to story points. Ed was also the online editor for our film "Jake".

Saito Yuuji is a bilingual customer service representative for an American company in Tokyo by day and an assistant producer by night and weekend. Saito-kun has worked with Colin and me since the beginning of this film. He has done everything from arranging the cars we used during production, to mapping out what roads we should use to avoid as much as possible driving near the nuclear plants when going up north. He created an emergency plan for us that included contact information for hospitals that were still open in the zone in case we got hurt and the center where we could go to get monitored for radiation exposure. We spoke to him every night we when we were in the zone and he worked from Tokyo to arrange and research everything we needed. During post-production, he has been a consultant on the English subtitles.

Katsuyoshi Ueno is a photographer and graphic designer in Tokyo. During the months following the earthquake and tsunami, Ueno-san was a prolific Tweeter of news and stories relating to issues dealing with the nuclear crises. The information he gathered was so good, that even the journalists were following his work. I was fortunate enough to be contacted by him and he not only educated me, but also inspired me to keep working. Ueno-san was the FIRST person to see the rough cut of my film and gave me invaluable advice on how to proceed.

Joseph Tame is a UK expat and celebrity blogger/ Tweeter here in Tokyo. He is a crazy, funny and intelligent tech guru. Honestly, his life should be my next documentary. Between flying off to Paris to present at tech conferences, live-streaming the Tokyo marathon WHILE running it (!) and getting stuck in a bidding war for his services, Joseph has advised me at key stages throughout this film. Two days ago he honoured me by watching the rough cut of my film and giving me the tough advice I needed. I am also indebted to Joseph for helping me out numerous times before, including filming the Q and A after the exhibition of my film "the ballad" here in Tokyo as well creating the website for my film "Jake".

And our team continues to grow!

Jay Horinouchi is an artist and coordinator for volunteers going to the devastated areas up north. I met with him yesterday and have asked him to animate the opening sequence of our documentary. He will be watching the rough cut next week, after which he will make a decision. You can view some of Jay's animation and commercial work here.

Finally, thank you all, dear readers, for your continued support and encouragement!

I would like to leave you with this video on the people that are still homeless after the tsunami. It is from the BBC and was brought to my attention my Joseph.

Five months later, there is still much to be done.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Choosing My Words Carefully

Right now, the 'rough cut' of my documentary is 1 hour and 50 minutes. While normally one would save putting the subtitles on it for the end (since scenes will still be changed throughout the 'fine cut' stage) I decided to spend three days (!) last week subtitling the film in English so that my producer in the UK could have a look at it and give me some help with getting the story right.

And, yes, it really did take three FULL days (and not the wimpy 8 hour kind, but the lots of coffee 14 hour kind) in order to subtitle a 2-hour film.

Yesterday, I asked a native Japanese-speaking colleague to come to my studio to help me go through the English subtitles one by one. I did this because as I was writing the subtitles, I became suddenly more aware of the personal responsibility I had to be accurate. In a scene where a town official was discussing radioactive water being released in to the ocean and ruining the local fishing industry, I could not afford to make a single word mistake. Mistranslating the word 'leak' could mean the difference between an assertion that the water was 'intentionally' rather than 'accidentally' leaked.

Although I do of course speak Japanese, I would feel challenged having these discussions about radiation, nuclear energy and the federal policies that govern them even in my native language.

I am sure I never thought about how much work and thought goes into writing each subtitle before I started making films myself. A person's personality, level of expertise and trustworthiness comes through in the words they choose. If this isn't taken into account in the subtitles, then entire layers and subtexts of the film will be lost. Perhaps this might not be as important for a Hollywood blockbuster, but for a human interest documentary built on interviews, if you couldn't trust what the subtitles say, there wouldn't be much left.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

"Please don't forget about us."

As I have been editing my feature documentary (trailer here) on the children of Minamisoma City, Japan who are living in the radiation zone 20-30 km from the damaged nuclear power plant in Fukushima, I have found it hard to keep up the momentum of updating my blog and YouTube channel.

Last week, I received words of encouragement from Anonymous in the form of this comment. I realized that while I have been so worried that the world was beginning to forget about the dire situation here in Japan that it was possible that there were people in the world who might think I was the one who was forgetting.

While nothing could be farther from the truth (I have been editing long hours everyday), I was reminded that I need to keep the people updated who continue to support and encourage me so much. So thank you, Anonymous, for your lovely words.

And keeping on the theme of not forgetting, no one could say it better than this man. He is a pediatrician, born and raised in Minamisoma, and is currently working there to care for the children whose parents have not been able to evacuate them.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Life is Busy

Don't forget to take out the trash and pick up the dry cleaning.

Trying to forget radiation fears.

Must not forget those who died five months ago today.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Putting It Where Your Mouth Is

The radiation-contaminated food scare (which really began with leafy greens such as spinach back in March) made it back into the news this month with beef. The government's lack of a timely and united approach to the problem even led to radiation-contaminated beef being served in school lunches.

While many people chose to live in a bubble where as long as one doesn't "have a cow" they would be fine, others of us knew that there was no way the radiation-contaminated food scandal would end with the beef industry as its only victim.

Now it has become a fact of life to see signs in supermarkets such as this one (via NYT reporter, Hiroko Tabuchi).

Additional stories in the news this week raise questions about the safety of our seafood (here, via Bloomberg) and indeed of our entire food chain (here, via The Japan Times).

I wrote on Twitter earlier today:

The JP gov'ts motto in monitoring food supply for radiation seems to be: The economy first. The people's health second.
What choice do we have, but to trust the government to monitor our food supply... the same government which is a party to the silencing of the truth such as this:

What is our choice? What alternative do we have but to hope that the government has the people's best interest at heart and are diligently monitoring the food supply?

I wonder what the bureaucrats in Tokyo are eating. Are they as worried about the food supply as the people they serve? What are they feeding their children and grandchildren?


(added Aug 2, 2011)

This story from Reuters outlines the worries and potential threat to this year's rice crop. Let's hope the central government can get on top of this issue to determine the safety of rice- a staple food of the Japanese diet- before it goes to market... unlike they were able to do for beef.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Anger and Sacrifice

This week has already been filled with news stories that have caught my attention... and it is only Tuesday.

A video that is going viral (as far as news-related videos in Japan are concerned) is one that shows the growing anger against Tokyo bureaucrats among residents of Fukushima Prefecture. Called "Japanese Government Killing Its Own People" the title is the least shocking thing about it.

The tactics that were used against the politicians in order to prove the point are certainly debatable, but in this country where traditionally "the nail that sticks up gets hammered down", it is refreshing to see people standing up for their rights and challenging authority.

And in stark contrast to this May 31 article which describes senior citizens volunteering for what is described as a "suicide corps" to help bring the damaged nuclear plant under control is this:

A man in his 20's who is sacrificing his future to do the same thing.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Another Cry For Help From Minamisoma

One of the things that first made me interested in going to Minamisoma to film was the video that the mayor of Minamisoma posted to YouTube on March 26 in which his plea for help as his town was virtually abandoned by the central government was heard around the world and earned him a place in Time's most influential people list.

I had been looking forward to meeting the mayor and interviewing him. I wanted to ask him how he would use his newly found fame to help the people of his town; how he would go up against the government machine that was already putting policies in motion that would cover up and deny the severity of the threat against the people- and especially the children- of his town.

When I received the opportunity in April to interview Mayor Sakurai, I was disappointed to learn that as quickly as he had become an advocate for his people, he had seemingly reversed 180 degrees and was answering questions in the same "government-speak" we had all gotten used to from the central government.

He denied there was any threat to the children and asserted that the children could safely play outside (a portion of this interview in which he makes this claim can be seen here in the trailer for my film).

When I heard Mayor Sakurai address the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Japan last month, his new message was even more honed and clear: he was to start new programs to invigorate the local economy and try to bring the citizens who had evacuated back to the town (putting these goals, in my opinion, ahead of the safety of his town's children).

Meanwhile, as I have written here recently, the government is looking for ways to DECREASE the evacuation zone even while new HOTSPOTS are being announced and additional citizens are having to make the decision as to whether to evacuate or not.

Unable to bear this crazy situation any longer, a local city council member has taken a page out of Mayor Sakurai's book and posted a video on YouTube on July 18 asking for the government to come to its senses when making policies that affect the children of this area (Time article can be found here with the video below).

Interestingly, the council member, Koichi Ooyama, had granted me an interview back in April. At that time, however, he would not speak to me on film as a city council member. He did agree, however, to be filmed as a citizen and as a father. A well-respected local potter, he introduced himself to me by his artist name of "Sato" and that is the name under which he appears in my documentary. Apparently as the months have passed and the gravity of the situation and how it will affect the children has become more understood, "Sato-san" realized that the message that he gave during my interview needed to be given again... this time to the world as City Councilman Ooyama.

I commend him for his bravery and hope that the world is listening. He has inspired me to work even harder as I finish the editing on the documentary on a subject that he holds dear to his heart: the children of his town.


Mayor Sakurai's March 26 video message to the world can be seen here:

Monday, July 18, 2011

Radiation-contaminated food fears and government buck-passing

With the unfolding (unraveling) story of radiation-contaminated beef making it to market and being consumed, I am left almost numb at the prospect of what this means for all the other products in our supermarkets. If the "checks" didn't work for the beef...

There are fears (both justified and not) about eating products from Fukushima Prefecture, the home of the damaged nuclear power plant. But let's be honest: the radioactive particles have been blown all over the place and are not contained in neat little circles drawn with a compass by a bureaucrat in Tokyo.

A Japanese friend said to me yesterday: "It isn't just the beef, is it." The Japanese people around me are just now figuring out that they have been lied to. And yet many others would rather believe that it is just the beef.

Are the checks being carried out on our vegetables? How about the fish and seafood that may have come into contact with the radioactive water that was dumped into the ocean? What about this year's rice crop? And our water supply? Shall I mention what is in the air and rain?

Some might say that the amounts of radiation being found in the food supply are, at the moment, small. But let us not forget that our annual exposure to radiation is calculated as our TOTAL cumulative exposure.

And this is the same government that is talking about easing the restrictions on the zone 20-30 km from the nuclear power plant (a decision that is is in my opinion both premature and dangerous) and yet still can't even figure out how to give the people living there access to full medical care.

The residents of Minami Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, are still being denied full medical services even though more than four months have passed since radiation leaks started...the primary reason for this denial is "buck passing" by the central and prefectural governments.
This is just another shocking example of governmental impotency.

(Note: I would like to thank Katsuyoshi Ueno who is on Twitter @44de256 and is a great source for all the latest news stories on what is happening in Japan.)

Discovery New: guest blog #8

Discovery News has just published my guest blog about finding humor amidst the tragedy of Japan.

Thank you, Discovery News!

The events of March 11 have taken away so much, but they haven't taken away our ability to laugh.