Monday, December 30, 2013

The more they take away, what remains only grows stronger

Today, I had the honour of being invited to take part in a traditional New Year's "Mochi-Tsuki" event (rice cake-making) led by Kaoru Konta, GP, from Inawashiro City, Fukushima.  Dr. Konta has held the New Year's event for the past two years for nuclear evacuees from Namie, a town located near the damaged nuclear power plant in Fukushima, who are living in temporary housing units in the neighbouring city of Nihonmatsu, Fukushima.

The citizens of Namie have not only lost their homes, but their families have been torn apart; much of the younger generation with small children have evacuated further away and many of the elderly have remained behind in temporary housing located in areas of relatively lower radiation within Fukushima Prefecture.  Along with the loss of their homes, a place where extended families would typically gather during the holidays, the evacuees also risk losing something equally important but less tangible: with fewer young people to carry on their traditions, the evacuees risk losing their long-held customs such as the "Mochi-Tsuki" event which is accompanied by folk songs sung in their local dialects.

The preserving of local cultural among nuclear evacuees is one of the issues that Anna Korolevska, the scientific director of the Chernobyl museum in the Ukraine, talked with me about when I was there last month.

Furthering the nuclear evacuees' frustration, the units in which they have been placed were built to last just two years (the amount of time that the government originally stated it would take until the citizens could return to their homes) despite many experts' opinions that it would take decades for the contaminated areas to become inhabitable again.  After nearly three years, many of the units are literally falling apart, cold air coming in through cracks in the walls and from under the floorboards (as described in THIS Japan Times article), and we witnessed this first-hand when we were invited into the unit used for the community centre.

With even these immediate needs seemingly out of the authorities' control, many of the residents appear to have little hope that issues such as a long-term housing solution and jobs for those who have lost their land and livelihood, will be solved any time soon.  As a result, Dr. Konta and her colleagues have noticed a sharp increase in depression, alcohol abuse and domestic violence among the nuclear evacuees.

Several weeks ago, Dr. Konta held her annual health symposium which she established several years ago to help educate the people of her town about issues affecting their health.  I had the honour of attending the symposium earlier this month, and the theme this year was about the health affects of radiation.  Featuring two guest speakers, one of whom has extensive experience working with children affected by the nuclear fallout from Chernobyl and the other a medical doctor, the event was intended to provide the citizens of Inawashiro with points of view that they may not have heard before so that they could make more well-informed decisions about issues affecting their families' health.

In the car on the way back from the "Mochi-Tsuki" event this afternoon, Dr. Konta and her husband shared with me something shocking about the health symposium: soon after it was held, a complaint of "inciting panic" was filed against Dr. Konta with the city hall, and she was visited by three high-ranking city officials who accused her of using city property (the auditorium where the event was held) for anti-nuclear purposes, and they demanded an explanation.  

Dr. Konta was being accused of "inciting panic" through a medically-sponsored symposium on health (!).  I asked her if she sensed any pressure, hidden or otherwise, had been placed on her as a result of this charge.  She nodded.  Dr. Konta had received a phone call yesterday, the day before the "Mochi-Tsuki" event, from the mayor of Inawashiro City.  Without providing any reason, the mayor informed Dr. Konta that he was no longer able to donate any rice for the event, something he had done for the previous two years and as he had promised to do again this year.

The mayor's donation represented only a portion of the needed rice, and the reneging of his promise didn't cause any real damage; but that wasn't the point: Dr. Konta was in shock as it appeared as though the mayor was trying to put pressure on her by taking away rice from nuclear evacuees.

Dr. Konta's husband, a heart surgeon, had an even more sinister take on it. "Rice cakes are just the beginning."

As the volunteers from the City of Inawashiro passed out the "mochi" rice-cakes to the people of Namie who were now living in temporary housing, the intended recipients kept insisting that the volunteers sit down and join them in the meal.  These people who had lost nearly everything wanted to share what little they were being given; they didn't want to be served, they wanted to break bread together.

The government officials may be able to take away rice, but what remains, the human spirit, is beyond their grasp.  The more they take away, what remains only grows stronger.


I feel uncomfortable celebrating my birthday.  When I try to avoid birthday cakes or showy displays of birthday celebration, people tease me that I just do not like the idea of getting older.  Although I know this is not the reason, I had not really understood myself why I avoided celebrating my birthday, and so I could never fully explain it to anyone else... until today, my 38th birthday.  

Today, I spent the day exactly how I wanted: doing something that was not about me in a place where no one knew it was my birthday.

As I put my thoughts about today into the words I wrote above, it clarified for me my feelings about birthdays: we have been put on this earth to do for others, and we are called to celebrate the gift of life that we have been given not by celebrating our own birth and receiving physical 'presents', but by celebrating the mystical exchange of grace that occurs when we use our 'presence', the life that we have been given, to do for others.

May your 2014 be filled with many Blessings, much Peace and good Health.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013 Year in Review

Thanks to the help and encouragement of you--- my friends, family and supporters--- 2013 has been an incredible journey.  Here's a look back at some of this year's amazing moments that you made possible, starting with this month:

In addition to 'A2-B-C' screening HERE in Taiwan and in THIS Japan domestic tour, I was extremely honoured to receive these recognitions:
'A2-B-C' was included in Third Window Films' Top 10 Japanese Films of 2013 (INFO)!

In a Sydney Review of Books article about Mark Willacy's Fukushima: Japan’s Tsunami and the Inside Story of the Nuclear Meltdowns, journalist Julian Littler included a section on 'A2-B-C' (ARTICLE).
In the not-so-distant past, there has been some debate about the nationality of the films that I make; although my films are made in Japan in Japanese and with Japanese money, there have been people who have insisted that my films are not Japanese simply because I'm not.

But this year, I feel my work has finally been recognized for what it is: I was the first non-Japanese person to be honoured with the Nippons Visions Awards (resulting in the qualification to receive the award being changed to "Japan-based director"); when 'A2-B-C' was screened in London's Raindance, it was programmed in the Way Out East strand of Japanese films (INFO), the only Japanese film directed by a non-Japanese director; and when 'A2-B-C' recently toured domestically in Japan with the other Japanese films in the PIA Film Festival, I was treated just like one of the other Japanese directors (info HERE), even if the photo (below) reminds me of THIS song from Sesame Street (!).

And here's how it all began:

While wrapping up filming on what would eventually become 'A2-B-C', I received THIS award for my first film about Fukushima, 'In the Grey Zone'.

I showed the "rough cut" of the film to the Fukushima mothers who appear in it.  THIS is how they responded.

MARCH 2013
For the 2nd anniverary of the March 11, 2011 disaster, I posted THIS look back on how my journey documenting this disaster began.

APRIL 2013
Even before "locking picture" on 'A2-B-C', I was back in Fukushima where I filed THIS series of stories.

MAY 2013
Prior to the World Premier of 'A2-B-C', I had the great honour of holding THIS press screening in Tokyo.  I also took THESE widely-seen photos at an anti-nuclear demonstration in the capital.

JUNE 2013
At the World Premier of 'A2-B-C' in Germany, the film won THIS award.  I also published THIS video of heart-felt messages to the mothers who appear in the film.

JULY 2013
'A2-B-C' was screened at THIS academic conference in Tokyo, the first of many educational uses of the film.  Also, THIS portrait, which captured and helped define a new beginning for me, was taken.

The North American premier of 'A2-B-C' was held and the UK Premier, Japan Premier and many others were confirmed.  I was also interviewed for THIS program on the BBC.

The day after the Japan premier of 'A2-B-C' in THIS festival, I embarked on what would eventually be a nearly 4-month World Tour beginning with THESE cities.  The film was awarded THIS honour.

No time for jet-lag between THIS screening in London, THIS one in Japan, and then THIS one in California.

The tour continued with THIS screening in Poland, the film was AWARDED in the Ukraine, and I visited the Chernobyl museum HERE.  After screening for the first time in Fukushima HERE, I met with resistance HERE and wrote about the controversial Secrecy Law HERE.

Thank you all so very much for your help and encouragement over the past year.  I ask for your continued support over the next year and beyond.

In Peace and with Much Gratitude,

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Epicenter of Existence

Yesterday's screening of 'A2-B-C' (INFO) took place in the Kobe Art Village Center (WEBSITE).  This part of Kobe was badly damaged in the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake (INFO) and it was here that the city of Kobe envisioned creating a center for the arts when the area was rebuilt.  Yesterday, not far from the epicenter of one recent natural disaster, a film about another recent disaster, this one man-made, was viewed by members of an audience some of whom had survived the 1995 disaster and some who had evacuated from the areas contaminated by radiation nearly three years ago.

Following recent screenings of 'A2-B-C', the call for showing the film more widely has become increasingly louder, and while I am grateful for this, I struggle with how to explain to people all of the issues-- and resistance-- that affect how and when the film can be released.  Meanwhile with all of the interest and seeming potential for an audience for the film in Japan, I must admit to being baffled at the difficultly we have experienced in getting a domestic theatrical release secured before now.

Following the screening and Q&A, I was interviewed by Satoshi Akazawa of Radio Kansai (WEBSITE), who also interviewed me live on the air two nights ago (INFO).  Although a few local radio stations and independent blogs have picked up the story of 'A2-B-C', I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise that no major network or news organization have done the same.

In the taxi on the way back to the station to catch a bullet train for Tokyo, I noticed a handwritten paper the driver had stuck to his dashboard.  These words to live by were in a place that both he, and those he guided safely to their various destinations in life, could see. 

Brightly live.
Deliciously eat.
Joyfully exist.

During this three-month journey that has been the World Tour of 'A2-B-C', thank you all so very much for your encouragement, support and guidance.  May we all be as the wise taxi driver and remember to both Joyfully Exist and to inspire others to do the same.

In Peace and with much Gratitude,

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Footprints and Propaganda

With a day off yesterday before the screening of 'A2-B-C' (WEBSITE) in Kobe, I spent the day walking around the gorgeous city of Kyoto.

My eye was drawn to the relationship between the natural and architectural beauty I was seeing and the impact made by the humans who also occupy this world of beauty: the wooden "geta" slippers that formed a perfect circle when placed together at the entrance to an old inn, a man hanging lanterns at a temple in preparation for the New Year holiday, a motorcycle parked inside the gateway to a traditional house...

The owner of a little shop I had wandered into was eager to talk.  In his seventies, he had lived above this shop for his entire life and had many stories about growing up in Kyoto during the war.  He pointed to a faded paper on the wall; "This is propaganda the Americans dropped from airplanes urging Japan to surrender.  It fell just over there," he said, pointing to the back garden of the house.  He gave me copy.

"And this was our bomb shelter," he said, lifting the floorboards.

The impact made by the humans who also occupy this world of beauty....

May we always remember that with every step we take we leave a footprint.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The body, mind and soul

The domestic promotional tour of 'A2-B-C' (WEBSITE) continues, and a screening was held last night in the beautiful and historic city of Kyoto (PIA Film Festival info HERE).

It was an honour to have so many people attend, and during the post-screening Q&A many expressed their concern for the situation in Fukushima.  I sensed there was frustration that so much of Western Japan has seemingly moved on from the disaster, which was nearly three years ago and only directly affected those living in Eastern Japan.  

I received many requests to screen the film for longer periods of time in more cities, and a nation-wide cinema release is something on which both my Japanese distributor and I are working hard (and is something that was at one point virtually guaranteed).  However, with the current political climate, this has become more difficult than we ever could have imagined.

With free time today before the screening in Kobe tomorrow (INFO), and with much to ponder, I went out for a walk, breathing in the crisp air, reflecting, thinking, and simply being in what is this beautiful city of Kyoto.  

Healing for the body, mind and soul.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Unto Ourselves

I stayed for an extra day after the Hiroshima Peace Film Festival ended; I simply felt I couldn't come all the way to Hiroshima for the first time and not visit the place which holds all those terrible memories that we must never forget.

And also by coincidence, this month the group of activist artists known as 'Chim↑Pom' (WEBSITE) have been holding their anti-nuclear-themed "Hiroshima!!!!!" exhibit (Dec 8th - 17th, 2013 INFO) in the former building of Japan Bank Hiroshima Branch, so I decided to begin my tour of Hiroshima there.

The exhibition contains many of Chim↑Pom's works and video art that have become famous (or infamous?) commentaries on the Japanese governments' post-Fukushima policies.  Chim↑Pom is continuously pushing the boundaries of freedom of speech making themselves the ire of the government, and their "pop-up art" (installing works of art in public places without the permission of the authorities) has landed them in trouble more than once.

The former building of Japan Bank Hiroshima Branch itself was badly damaged by the nuclear blast, and seeing this exhibit in this space was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

After visiting this amazing exhibit I needed to sit down for a few minutes and try to at least begin to process what I had seen before moving on to what I knew would be an even more over-whelming experience: the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (WEBSITE).

Beginning at the Peace Dome, I spent the rest of the day in the Peace Memorial Park (INFO), the large area that has been set aside to memorialize, commemorate and teach about what happened on August 6, 1945 at 8:15 in the morning.

What it is like to be here is something that is not easily put into words, and so I will limit my description of the museum itself to two exhibits which particularly struck me.  The first is one which has recently stirred a controversial debate: it depicts a scene just after the atomic blast and contains several mannequins with their skin melting off their bones.  

Some parents have described the exhibit as "grotesque" and "disturbing" to children, which I imagine was the point in the first place: to educate about the "grotesque" and "disturbing" nature of war in an effort to prevent such an atrocity from ever happening again.  (An Asahi Shinbun article about this debate can be found HERE).

It unfortunately appears that the City of Hiroshima may end up bowing to pressure to remove the mannequins thus sterilizing the truth, lest, God forbid, anyone feels uncomfortable at an exhibit depicting the dropping of an atomic bomb onto a city full of people. 

Also in the museum is a short video about the "Effects of Radiation on Human Bodies".  As I watched it, I was reminded of "X Years Later", a documentary about the Japanese fisherman who were exposed to radiation from US nuclear testing (which I wrote about HERE), and their story suddenly became inextricably intertwined with that of Hiroshima and Fukushima.

Radiation effects do not necessarily appear immediately after exposure.  They can manifest years later.

Therefore, even now A-bomb survivors live with profound anxiety about their health.

And then I came across this plaque in the National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims that I could not help but to read as a warning:

The injuries inflicted by the atomic bomb appeared to be healing by the end of 1945, but a high percentage of those who seemed to be recovering later fell victim to a vast array of aftereffects... 

[...] The pain and anxiety of many survivors continue.

And all of this we have done unto ourselves.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Becoming Extinct

It was a humbling experience to screen my Fukushima documentary 'A2-B-C' (WEBSITE) in Hiroshima, a city with its own terrible nuclear history.

The screening during the Hiroshima Peace Film Festival (WEBSITE) took place on Friday at Yokogawa Cinema (details HERE) following the classic Japanese film "いきてるうちがはななのよしんだらそれまでよとうせんげん (Ikiterisu uchi ga hana nanoyo, shindara soremade yotousengen)" (1985), which eerily mentions the plants in Fukushima in a story about workers in the nuclear industry.

During the post-screening Q&A, led by Dr. Takahashi Hiroko from Hiroshima City University, I was asked if I personally had any message about Fukushima to the people of Hiroshima.  I was caught off-guard and thought for a moment;  I am sometimes asked to speak on behalf of the people of Fukushima, something I always try to avoid as I can only speak about my personal experiences and not for anyone else.  Now, in Hiroshima, I felt an even greater responsibility to honor my policy not to speak on behalf of the people of Fukushima.

"I am simply a messenger," I told the audience.  "The message I have is from the Fukushima mothers, and I am delivering it to you through this film."

On Saturday I attended the screening of "X nen go (X Number of Years Later)" directed by Ito Hideo (WEBSITE).  The documentary follows the story of a high school history teacher as he tries to track down and document the surviving fisherman of the "Lucky Dragon 5" incident, in which hundreds of Japanese fishing vessels (and not just the "Lucky Dragon 5", as is incorrectly believed by some) were exposed to fallout from nuclear testing by the US.

For anyone who is concerned about Fukushima and the effects of radiation on people's health YEARS after exposure, this film is a MUST see.

Later in the afternoon, I had the honour of sitting on a panel with Mr. Ito (photo below), along with other film directors and the organizers of the Hiroshima Peace Film Festival.

Today, the closing day of the festival, the screenings were held in festival organizer Aohara Satoshi's family's temple, and it was a beautiful atmosphere for watching films about peace and awareness.

During the closing remarks, each of the attending directors was offered an opportunity to speak.  I mentioned how interesting it is that Mr. Aohara is a documentary filmmaker focusing on Fukushima whose father is a Buddhist priest, while I am documentary filmmaker focusing on Fukushima and my father is an Episcopal priest.

I also remarked on how many of the films that were screened this year at the Hiroshima Peace Film Festival were somehow related to Fukushima.  I wondered out loud about what films the festival, which is held every two years, would have been screening had the 2011 disaster in Fukushima not happened.

"If we were to find true Peace," I said, "the need for this festival would no longer exist."

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Farewell Hiroshima

I've said before that film festivals are not only about films, but they are about a time of gathering, sharing, exchanging ideas, learning, teaching and of breaking bread together.

This time in Taipei has been an amazing experience that I will cherish and from which I will continue to learn in the years to come.

Last night, my last night in Taipei, I joined a few members of the festival staff for a debriefing and a drink.  As we sat together in the booth of a pub, sharing our thoughts about all we had experienced during the past few days, something on the drink menu caught my eye:  "Farewell Hiroshima".

Farewell, indeed.  How to ensure that there is never another Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Chernobyl, Fukushima, or another of any of the countless nuclear accidents, incidents and testing of which we should know the names and yet do not?  

The road ahead is long, but this is where it begins: with awareness, exchanging information and friendship.

And as the nearly three-month World Tour of 'A2-B-C' comes to an end and the domestic promotional tour begins,  I am ever mindful of those who have helped to make all of this possible and humbly ask for your continued support and encouragement.

With much Gratitude and in Peace,