Sunday, July 27, 2014

Eating Nightmares

This weekend saw the unfolding of the Japan-wide theatrical release of 'A2-B-C' continue with the film opening in the Kansai city of Kobe where it will be in residence for the next two weeks at Kobe Art Village Center in the Shinkaichi District (INFO 日本語).  This visit marks the third time I have been to Kobe in the past six months; the first was last December when 'A2-B-C' screened during the PIA Film Festival (STORY), and then I was here earlier this month when I was invited to speak at the University of Kobe (STORY).

Following the screening this evening, there was a formal Q&A as well time to meet with people informally in the lobby.  Among the visitors was an animal called a "baku" ( ばく) in Japanese, or "tapir" in English, which gave me a tea towel.  To be honest, I have no idea how or why the "baku" was there, and living in Japan, you just learn not to ask questions and to accept these completely random things as being totally normal.  

One of the theatre staff members leaned over and whispered to me, "myth has it that 'baku' eat people's nightmares".  

If only they could eat the nightmare that is this nuclear disaster...

Sunday, July 20, 2014


The screenings of 'A2-B-C' (website ENGLISH/ 日本語) around the country continued this weekend in the Nagano Prefecture city of Matsumoto.  It was the first time for me to visit this part of Japan, and I continue to be so grateful for the amazing opportunity to travel with which this film has provided me.

Arriving in Matsumoto yesterday, there was time to take in a few must-see sites before the screenings of 'A2-B-C' in the evening.  Matsumoto is a perfectly-sized city, with nearly all of the historical landmarks, museums and cultural points of interest within walking distance of the train station (tourist information in English is HERE).  

Throughout the city, natural springs bubble up and the cool, clean water can be enjoyed both on the spot and collected in a bottle to enjoy later.  Local residents can often be seen filling up large jugs to bring home, and I filled my own travel bottle to sip while walking around the city; and when it became empty, there was always another spring just around the corner!

First stop on my tour was the 400 year old Matsumoto Castle, designated as a natural treasure of Japan (info in English HERE).  It was after five in the evening by the time I got there, so I wasn't able to go inside, but what a majestic setting for this beautiful structure!

In the evening 'A2-B-C' was screened twice by Cinema Select, a non-profit organization established to bring films dealing with current social issues to Matsumoto (INFO) following the closing of the last cinema in the city.

After the second screening of the film, I took part in a panel discussion and Q&A with the audience.

This morning, with a few hours to spare before needing to head back to Tokyo, there was time to visit the former Kaichi School, built in 1876 (info in English HERE).

The city of Matumoto is also the birthplace of "dots-obsessed" artist Yayoi Kusama, and the Matsumoto Museum of Art holds a large collection of her work (info in English HERE).  The courtyard and even the vending machines at the museum are adorned with her famous dots.

After a lunch of local soba noodles (delicious!), I stopped at a spring to fill up my travel bottle one last time before heading back to the station for a train that would take me back to the concrete jungle that is Tokyo.  Pausing to take in the beautiful view and fresh air of Matsumoto, I thought about the Fukushima families in my film who are so concerned about the health of their children and the safety of the food they eat and the water they drink...

Friday, July 11, 2014

Never forget: it's all about the money

On Thursday, I was invited to a screening of "Somba Ke- The Money Place", directed by David Henningson (website HERE) at Seijo University (event info HERE).  The screening was followed by a discussion session called "The Global Impacts of the Uranium Trade" with the filmmaker and moderated by Seijo University's Dennis Riches.

The film documents the Sahtu Dene, a group of First Nation people in Northern Canada, as they are impacted by the affects of uranium mining near where they live.  Uranium mining had been proposed to them as good for their economy and modernization, even though they had lived perfectly fine for thousands of years without television or Coca Cola.  The Sahtu Dene were employed to help transport the uranium while the danger to their health was hidden from them by the Canadian government.  

There are more than a few similarities between this story and the way the Japanese government introduced nuclear power plants into the agricultural communities of rural Japan. 

When filmmaker David Henningson learned that uranium from the El Dorado mine in Canada was used to make the nuclear bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and that some of the Sahtu Dene planned to go to Japan to apologize to atomic bomb survivors for unwittingly helping to create such destruction, he knew he had to make a film.  But the film he ended up making was very different from the one he had planned...

Tonight I conducted a Q&A and talk after a screening of my own film about how radiation can affect a group of people, 'A2-B-C', (WEBSITE ENGLISH/ 日本語).  While the theatrical release unfolds around the country (currently screening in the Kansai cities of Osaka and Kyoto, info HERE), private screenings in and around the capital are taking place following a successful six-week theatrical release in Tokyo (INFO).

Tonight's event, called 「3.11を忘れない」"Never Forget 3.11" (INFO 日本語) was the first of a three-part series taking place this year on July 11, August 11 and September 11, where films related to the March 11, 2011 disaster are being screened.  The screening in the 240-seat hall in the ocean-side city of Kamakura, one hour outside of Tokyo, was completely sold-out, and they unfortunately had to turn some people away.  (Since the event was taking place in a public hall, they had to strictly adhere to the fire regulations... no sitting in the aisles and standing in the back as at some other recent screenings of the film).

The event, in its second year, is organized by physician Dr. Taro Sakai and United Christ of Church Pastor Kensaku Iwai with assistance by many volunteers from the local community. 

(left photo) with Dr. Sakai ; (right photo, L to R) a volunteer, Dr. Sakai, Rev. Iwai and his wife
The post-screening discussion was led by local radio personality Ms. Nakatani Natsuko, and although the plan was to have us speaking from the stage, I asked if we could do it from the floor in front of the stage.  I am not an expert, I am simply a filmmaker, and I feel uncomfortable speaking from a level higher than the audience, especially when there are often real experts in the audience who know much more about medical and radiation issues than I do.  To facilitate a more intimate and friendly conversation (as much as is possible with over 200 people), Ms. Nakatani and I descended the stairs.

The audience's questions were varied;  Do I drink the water and eat the food in Fukushima when I go there?  Yes.  What will the long term affects be on the children living in Fukushima?  No one really knows.  What did I think of the rag mag that published an outrageously critical article about me, the film and the mothers that appear in it (INFO)?  While I feel sorry for the criticism the mothers continue to receive, the article helped bring more people into the cinema to see what all the fuss was about, so I say "bring it on"!

No matter what question one could ask about this disaster, whether it is why more people were not evacuated, why non-radioactive iodine was not handed out, why the nuclear plants were not more quake-resistant, why people's homes are undergoing "decontamination" even though it is proven that it is ineffective, why anything, the answer can always be traced back to one thing: money.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Fanning the Flames

It has been a wonderful (and full!) two days in Kansai.  After three great screenings of 'A2-B-C' (website ENGLISH/ 日本語) in Osaka and Kyoto yesterday (STORY) I spent the night in Kyoto.  This morning I then traveled back to Osaka to conduct a Q&A session after the 10am screening at 7 Gei Cinema (info 日本語).

When I expressed my disappointment at being unable to stay in Osaka to take part in the post-screening discussion after the 14:30 screening as I had to be in Kobe in the afternoon, cinema boss Matsumura-san asked if I would like to introduce the film before leaving.  Typically, I do not like to introduce my films as I would like them to speak for themselves, but I decided to address the audience, even it was only to thank them for coming.

My greetings turned into a 20 minute pre-screening session during which people even asked questions, such as why the film isn't on more screens around the country, what my motivation was to first go to Fukushima, and about the first film that I made there, "In the Grey Zone" (WEBSITE).

with 7 Gei Cinema boss Matsumura-san
Someone in attendance at one of the screenings here yesterday filmed and posted the Q&A and following informal discussion (direct LINK).  I really do not like watching footage of myself, so I have not watched it yet.  Gee, I hope I haven't said anything inflammatory...

And speaking of inflammatory, the colleague who yesterday alerted me to the Tweets speculating about the condition of my thyroid (HERE) has today told me know about a group on Twitter dedicated to discrediting my film and me.  Checking out the page HERE (while holding my breath), I found it to be quite educational, and I even learned a few new (bad) words (!).  One simply-worded and almost philosophical barb immediately caught my eye.  It referred to a recently published newspaper article in which I was quoted as saying that the filming I am doing in Fukushima is my "life work".  It said:
 "Life work is fine, but don't you think you ought to consider whether or not you are exploiting others to do that work?"

Back at the train station, I headed to Kobe where I had been invited to speak by members of Dr. Togo Tsukahara's laboratory in the Faculty of Inter-Cultural Studies at the University of Kobe.  The student members organized the event at which I was asked to speak about my work in Fukushima and to share clips from the dozens of short documentaries I have produced relating to the nuclear accident (many of which can be found on my channel HERE).

After opening remarks by student organizer Ms. Sakiguchi Mai and Dr. Tsukahara, I spoke for an hour about my journey from initial shock after the earthquake, to filming in Tokyo and then eventually to traveling to the Tohoku region (this progression is also documented in THIS VIDEO that I published for the 2nd anniversary of the disaster).  I used clips from my work to illustrate the evolution of my filming, including scenes from the early short films as well as from both of my feature documentaries about children who are being affected by the nuclear disaster.  I concluded the talk with a yet unpublished 10-minute scene from my most recent work in Fukushima.

Following, there was then an hour of discussion time with those in attendance.  The students, many of whom had both experiences living abroad and volunteering in the Tohoko area, asked wonderful questions.  One student asked about the role and responsibility of fimmakers to ensure that their films are seen, not only as people who simply make them and move on.  Another person asked about why my work focuses mainly on children and mothers.  Someone wanted to know if by documenting the fear and panic of the families that it could possibly be exacerbating the situation.  Another asked if focusing a lens on someone could cause them to speak against their will.  And I was asked about my thoughts relating to Japan's nuclear future.

Following the main event, the attendees gathered together for more discussion over drinks and food. The less formal atmosphere allowed them to ask questions a bit more privately, or even about things that were not directly related to my work in Fukushima... like why I came to Japan.  There wasn't enough time to answer that one as the taxi to take me to the station pulled up, but I left promising to answer it next time. 

And now I am on the bullet train heading home, thinking about how grateful I am for all of these experiences to share my about work and reflecting on the many the things I learn from being given the opportunity to do so.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Care to care?

First thing this morning, I was at the airport in Tokyo on my way to Western Japan, where 'A2-B-C' (website ENGLISH/ 日本語) is screening in Osaka and Kyoto.  First stop was Osaka's 7Gei Cinema (screening info 日本語) where last month's press junket took place (STORY).  'A2-B-C' is screening here for the next three weeks, and I was able to conduct a Q&A following both the 10:00 and 14:30 screenings today.

Some of the results of last month's junket are displayed on the walls of 7 Gei Cinema in Osaka

After the formal Q&A, the cinema had set aside time for "autographs", but since I don't have any merchandise like T-shirts or programs to hock (nor do I feel that with a film like this that it would be appropriate), we decided to use the time to continue the discussion informally in the lobby of the cinema.  The formal Q&A lasted for 20 minutes, but the discussion that followed in the lobby lasted for nearly three quarters of an hour!

No time for even a quick break to eat something as I was then ushered into a meeting room for an interview with newspaper Sankei Shinbun.  It was a wonderful discussion with staff writer Nami Hashimoto, but by the time the hour interview was over, I was definitely ready for something to eat!

7 Gei Cinema boss Matsumura-san kindly offered to accompany me on the 45 minute train ride to Kyoto where 'A2-B-C' is screening for the next two weeks (screening info 日本語).  The time on the train gave us an opportunity to talk more causally and openly about making/ screening films, the business of running a theatre, and the making/ screening of films that we feel are important but don't pay the rent (for independent filmmakers or theatre owners).

After arriving at Kyoto Cinema, I had the honour of joining cinema director Yokochi-san for dinner during which we discussed several of the so-called "3.11 disaster films" that she has programmed.  Apparently it is becoming more difficult to attract theatre-goers to such films, despite there being an increasing number of requests to show them.  This would seem to indicate that as a growing majority of people do not want to see such films, some people in the minority are becoming more vocal in their requests to have them screened.

It seems that the independent cinemas who want to screen films about important social issues face many of the same problems as those of us who make the films: how do you get people to begin to care about what is happening in the world around them?

post-screening Q&A at Kyoto Cinema

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Deer in the Headlights

Although 'A2-B-C' (WEBSITE ENGLISH/ 日本語) is no longer playing in the cinema in Tokyo after a successful six-week run (INFO), the theatrical release continues around the country (theatre listings 日本語) and in private screenings around the capital and beyond (日本語).  Today, one such screening took place in Yanaka, an old and beautiful part of Tokyo.

The screening was held in the "Yanaka House" (INFO 日本語) and was organized by the "Once a Month Film Festival", an event that brings together people from the community for a screening followed by discussion over a meal together.

The two screenings that were held today were both sold out, and I joined the post-screening discussion following the second screening.  The discussion was live-streamed over the internet and also recorded to be uploaded to the group's homepage.  I must admit to being nervous about speaking when I know it is going out live or will be posted to the internet.  I always start out trying to choose my words carefully, but I seem to get caught up in the passion of the discussion and quickly forget that I am being filmed...

Following the formal Q&A, the informal "Cafe" session began.  Tables were set up and the chairs rearranged so that the entire group was seated in one giant circle.  We then shared a meal together as the discussion continued.  

Funahashi Atsushi, director of Nuclear Nation (WEBSITE), who happens to live in the neighbourhood, attended the cafe session, and it was wonderful to see him again.  I first met Funahashi-san last year when we were screening our films during the Cultural Typhoon conference in Tokyo (INFO).

It is rather unusual to have two filmmakers whose work centers on Fukushima at the same event, and Funahashi-san joined the discussion giving the audience further context and insight into the problems facing people living in Fukushima.  And for me, it was a rare opportunity to be able to ask another filmmaker questions directly and to be able to springboard off of their answers.

Yesterday, a nicely written and prominently-placed article about my work was published in the Tokyo Shinbun newspaper (PHOTO below, online version here: 日本語).  However, just as some reporters and newspaper editors in Japan have become bolder about publishing articles related to Fukushima, it seems supporters of the government's current policy have become bolder in their attacks against such articles. I find the bashing increasingly vicious and personal, and the backlash against the film, the mothers that appear in it, and me, on Twitter after the article was published was particularly distasteful and, quite frankly, unintelligent and immature.  And anonymous.  

In the witching-hunting mobs' defense, however, I must admit the photo that accompanied the article did make me look as if I was possessed by demons, LOL.
My sister and I had a good laugh over the photo while talking on the phone yesterday, but the joke was soon over:  the photo led at least one influential Tweeter to speculate in a series of sensational tweets (one is below) that my "bulging eyes" were clearly a symptom that I myself was suffering from a thyroid condition, the implication being that my work in Fukushima was directly impacting my health.  The tweets were eventually deleted at the request of a colleague (HERE), but not before they were re-tweeted dozens of times, making the rounds around the Twitterverse.  Honestly, some people have too much time on their hands...

Tomorrow I leave bright and early for the airport where I will fly to Kansai for screenings in Osaka and Kyoto; and then I will be off to Kobe where I will be giving a speech on Monday evening.

明日より映画「A2-B-C」が大阪・京都で上映されます。 大阪:第七芸術劇場にて初週(7/5-7/10)①10:00②14:30  *7/6の2回と7/7の10:00の回に監督舞台挨拶 京都:京都シネマにて初週(7/5-7/10)19:40~ *7/6監督舞台挨拶

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

In my own words

Today I had the honour of presenting 'A2-B-C' (WEBSITE) at the University of Tsukuba (INFO), the first time for the film to be screened in Ibaraki Prefecture.  Because of Ibaraki's proximity to Fukushima and the discovery of radioactive contamination and hotspots in the prefecture, many people here share concerns similar to those expressed by the families in the film. 

The event was open to the public, and the screening was well-attended by a wonderful mix of students from many different disciplines along with older members of the wider community.  As a result, the post-screening discussion was lively and covered a variety of topics.  At several points I found myself becoming wrapped up in the energy of the room and speaking perhaps more passionately than the middle-of-the-ground approach I generally attempt to take.

There was a young girl sitting with her mother in the front row, and I asked her how old she was and what she thought about the film.  She said she was 15, and that she was shocked by what she had seen.  She then went on to say that she couldn't believe this was happening to people so close to where she lives and yet she hadn't known, and that this made her question if she was a bad person.

In response, I shared with her my own experience: prior to this nuclear accident, I had never thought-- not even once-- about where the electricity that I used was coming from.  It was unimaginable to me that something I took so much for granted could cause such utter destruction to someone's homeland, to people's lives.  I, too, have thought about how shallow and thoughtless of a person I was before all of this happened.

But awareness is the first step, and we are now being called to action, to work together to solve this terrible problem.  And as I write this, the words I wrote on the 3rd anniversary of this great disaster come back to me (HERE):
"I am not an activist.  I am not an activist,"  I hear myself say as I slowly become one.