Saturday, August 29, 2015


An article about the cancellation and subsequent re-establishing of Japan domestic screenings of my documentary 'A2-B-C' (2013) was published today in the Asahi Shinbun (Digital) LINK.  This follows the August 4 announcement of the re-establishment of the private screening system on the website of the film (INFO).  The article in the Asahi faced a long and uphill battle to publication, and while I am glad that it is finally available to online readers, this does not alter my disappointment that an editorial decision was made to not carry the article in the print edition.

Meanwhile, screenings of my documentary '-1287' (2014) continue around the world.  Screenings of the film in festivals this autumn will be taking place in LA (Sept 14), Korea (Sept 18 & 22), Holland (Sept 26), Taiwan (Oct), Midwest USA (Nov) and NY (Nov).  Screening information, including at which screenings I plan to be in attendance, can be found on the film's website (HERE).

Thank you all so very much for your support!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Festival of the dead, part 4: Out with a Bang

The weekend festivities continue on Saturday, but so does the threat of rain.  Yet this does not keep away the citizens of Nakagawa, who are eager to dance and enjoy the festival.

Even a sudden, heavy downpour, which sends the people scrambling for the nearest tent, does not dampen the mood.  In fact, the more than 50,000 fireworks that were set off for the attendees somehow seemed even more beautiful reflected on the wet ground and the outsides of glistening umbrellas.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Festival of the Dead, part 3: Playing with Fire

When the dance and games are over, the lights illuminating the grounds suddenly go out, casting the crowd in eerie shadows.

It is not a power blackout, but rather preparation for what is perhaps the most anticipated part of the evening for the children: the fireworks.  Unlike some fireworks displays where the crowd is invited to watch from a safe distance as professional pyrotechnics put on a choreographed display, here the crowd is invited to step forward and take part as literally thousands of fireworks are passed into the waiting hands of dozens of small children.  To a backdrop of bottle rockets being set off directly behind them, adults armed with lighters ignite the sparklers and other small explosives held in the hands of the delighted children.  

I must admit my heart skipped more than a few beats as little children screamed with delight while running around waving flaming sticks of fire.

To be completed in part four.

Festival of the Dead, part 2: Dancing with the Dead

The musicians climb atop the bandstand and the dance begins.  The neighborhood attendees gather and follow the chalk line to form a circle around the bandstand. And then they begin to dance.

Worried that the rain may again begin to fall, the musicians have decided to keep the big taiko drum under the tent.  Although they are separated from the singers and flute player, the percussionists are together with them in song.

Partway through the dance, the participants break for a much-needed rest and refueling.  The children enjoy the free cotton candy, shaved ice and games, while there is plenty of beer for the adults.

After a second round of dancing, large boxes of candy, treats and small toys are hoisted to the top of the bandstand.  The participants, armed with large plastic bags, gather around in anticipation of what is to come.  The musicians, with as much energy as they had sung and played, throw treats by the armful to the delighted crowd below.  While some skillfully catch them directly in their bags, others sink to the knees, slithering between the legs of those still standing, as they scoop up the treats that have fallen to the ground.

To be continued in "Festival of the Dead, part 3: Playing with Fire"

Friday, August 14, 2015

Festival of the Dead, part 1: Threatening Clouds

This weekend was the Obon Festival, or Festival of the Dead, where there is a mass exodus from the cities as people return to their hometowns in the countryside.  I joined the crowds boarding the bulletin trains heading out of Tokyo, to return to the town of Bato (now called Nakagawa after merging with the neighboring town of Ogawa ten years ago) in Tochigi prefecture.  I lived in Bato for three years when I first moved to Japan, and this weekend I joined Koji, my friend and television producer/ director (and with whom I co-created by TV show "Ian's Kitchen" INFO), while he filmed the festivities for cable TV.  I decided to document the events in pictures.


The day of the Bon Odori (dance) has come, but dark rain clouds threaten the event.

Having faith the festival will take place, the children of the festival's volunteer staff help prepare the games.

The men test the beer to make sure it hasn't gone flat while they listen to the weather report.

Meanwhile, the children test the cotton candy to be sure it is sweet enough.

Hoping that tonight's fireworks won't be rained out, the volunteer firefighters arrive.

A few people trickle in, but so does the rain...

The elders gather and decide that the festival will go ahead as planned!  A circle is drawn in chalk around the bandstand to mark where the participants will dance.

Miraculously, just as the fireworks are set off to signal to the community to gather, the rain stops!

The bandstand is prepared with cloth in the celebratory colors of red and white.

The musicians, who traditionally perform from atop the bandstand, worry about more rain and discuss if they will risk taking the large taiko drum outside.

The decision is made to keep the drum under the tent, but the singers and flute player will perform from atop the bandstand.

The neighborhood has gathered, the opening speeches are made, and the festival begins!

   To be continued...

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Going backwards by restarting

Amid controversy and protests, the government of Japan has restarted the first nuclear power plant since the disaster nearly four and a half years ago (Japan Times news story HERE). 

The restart of the reactor at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai plant was the lead story on the BBC Word Service, and as someone who has been visiting Fukushima since shortly after the nuclear meltdown in 2011, I was honoured to be asked to appear on the program (via Skype) where I was interviewed live on air (BBC podcast HERE).