Nuclear Nation


Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

Nuclear Nation
"They're interesting people, all with interesting and evolving stories to tell."

Nuclear Nation is an interesting look at the aftermath of the 11th March tsunami and Fukishima nuclear disaster. The film focusses on the personalities of the homeless and displaced from the town of Futaba. They're placed in an abandoned high school in a region of Tokyo, about 150 miles from home.

They're interesting people, all with interesting and evolving stories to tell. Director Atushi Funahashi keeps a clear and compassionate eye on his subjects, and they're relaxed on camera, explaining the monumental change in their lives on a personal and societal basis.

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We're kept on track with title cards, extracts from the media and exposition to initiate us with the necessary information from scene to scene. To show the progression of events, the film is roughly chaptered into seasons: Spring, Summer and Fall. Furthermore, it smartly uses pillow shots of the ever-growing paddy fields (getting enough to eat is an ever-growing problem) to jump from scene to scene.

The high-school is a fully functioning slice of government for the evacuees. It deals with food distribution, medicine, local government and places for (often elderly) families to rest. It also put on musical performances to keep spirits strong, and Emperor Akihito visits. The filmmakers are not able to shoot much of this - so we make do with extracts from refugees' cameraphones.

The joviality doesn't last. The day to day grind for the refugees, combined with general perceptions of central government ignoring them, leads to stiff upper-lipped frustration. We see a public apology from the government on television - the refugees are understandably dismissive.

A number of characters emerge from this societal soup. We're introduced to Futaba's mayor early on, poring over old maps. "When you look from above, it looks like there's nothing stopping us [from returning]". We return to him often, and he's a thoughtful, interesting speaker who's clearly had to stew in enormous guilt - he was instrumental in accepting the nuclear plant's subsidies into their community to keep schools, libraries and infrastructure ticking over. It's presented as a Faustian bargain which he clearly regrets.

We see survivors looking over the deceased and missing lists. They're very large, with lots of red pen scrawled over them. One family in particular stand out. They have lost their matriarch, Chiyoko, and only months later discover her body for a burial. They can't mourn her, and later on, as they're allowed back into the contaminated zone, cannot find their house; it's been completely destroyed. Chyoko's son, Yuuchi, worked at the Fukishima nuclear plant. His direct-to-camera confession about failing to find his mother in time is hard viewing.

The film's uniting theme is that of responsibility. The mayor contemplates his involvement in the disaster and his subsequent representation of the community within central government.

Furthermore, the film documents in rich detail how the refugees share responsibilities, how they bind and get through each day's same staple meals - rice gruel is all that can be quickly produced early on to keep the refugees alive, but in time, they receive pre-packaged food parcels (some of the elderly residents cannot eat them).

In focusing on the human stories, Funahashi forges a smart, cohesive documentary which delves into the drama of simply waiting in hope. It's a strange, sad and occasionally uplifting experience.

Reviewed on: 21 Jun 2012
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Survivors of the 2011 Japanese tsunami discuss their experiences and reveal the nature of their lives as refugees.
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Director: Atsushi Funahashi

Year: 2012

Runtime: 118 minutes

Country: Japan


EIFF 2012
BIFF 2012

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If you like this, try:

Japan: Children Of The Tsunami