On March 11, 2013 a tremendous tsunami triggered by an 8.9 magnitude earthquake hit Japan and rendered unoperational the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. It released radiation and the residents of Futaba became nuclear refugees. Director Atsushi Funahashi brings us footage that shows the devastation that came—dead livestock left to rot, crops abandoned, homes and businesses destroyed. It was all much worse than any news report could tell and now, a year later, many still cannot return home; their houses are contaminated.
There is irony with what happened here is that Japan is a nation that has already dealt with two nuclear bombs and her citizens now question their responsibility. This film looks at what happened at Fukushima and if the same thing could be recreated on an epic scale.
The film focuses on those who were directly affected by the Fukushima reactor fallout— the evacuees from Futaba, which became their ground on March 12, 2011. We see their hardship and fortitude, but the alarming implications of corporate and governmental indifference and ineptitude. We watch the resettlement of 1,415 Futaba residents at the abandoned Kisai High School in Saitama, a suburban city near Tokyo which took place after their initial evacuation to the capital in the wake of tsunami-triggered hydrogen explosions in the towns’ nuclear plants Nos. 1, 2 and 3. We first see a preliminary survey of makeshift and inhospitable living conditions and the focus shifts to what two specific families. The Nakais are a father and son who now have to live with the inconsolable regret of not having had enough time to search for their missing wife and mother during the hasty retreat. The Yokoyamas, a three-generation family, is close and pragmatic, even with their periodic separations and permanent uprooting.
Idogawa, a soft-spoken, unassuming man takes us through the endless lobbying sessions with Tokyo Electric Power Co. management and government officials. The company claims to have made an “unprecedented decision” by promptly evacuating the whole town, thus saving his people from unimaginable health hazards, and this causes us to see Idogawa as an honest man of integrity and drive who displays enough humility to confess his past misjudgments and attempts to correct them. These qualities were obviously lacking at higher political and corporate levels as the film shows us. His account of what happened is frank and very, very sad and as he speaks we see how the town was dependent on the plant. The film spans ten months during which we are reminded of an apocalyptic wasteland. The story is written, narrated and filmed exclusively from the point of view of the survivors of the tsunami and the subsequent reactor vessel explosions. It changes every day and yet somehow stays the same.
The huge atomic power complex was built to serve which used it to excess. Yet when disaster struck, Tokyo, it was the residents of Futaba, Fukushima who lost everything. They lost homes, friends, families, traditions and social networks. Worst of all, they lost their standing in Japanese society. They have become outcasts, pariahs and refugees in their own country. Top Japanese officials appear to be dedicated to the preservation and strengthening of the denial that they exist. The devastation experienced by Futaba, dead livestock left to rot, crops abandoned, homes and businesses destroyed, was infinitely worse than anything reported by the newspapers. The survivors have become an inconvenient truth that the government wants to cover up.
“Nuclear Nation” is a moving requiem for the lost town, as well as a quietly outraged expose of how the people of Futaba were lied to, and neglected by the power company and by the Japanese government. “Nuclear Nation” is a film that listens patiently, and at length, to the voices of those who lost the people and things most precious to them, and mourns the people, and their way of life, that have passed away. Constituents have been forced to be rootless and they face discrimination as a result of being exposed to radiation, and humiliation because the town’s pariah reputation.
The most memorable scene in the film comes when the mayor taking the government officials to task, calls them out as liars and condemns their stalling, waffling, and inaction in the face of his constituent’s urgent needs. In yet another scene, residents from eight towns with nuclear plants protest this governmental inaction. “Let us go home!,” they cry.
“This film will force you to reassess all the arguments for and against nuclear power.”
- The New York Times
“Worthy and troubling. Director Atsushi Funahashi uses his camera as silent witness to what, up to now, has not been fully seen and acknowledged.” – RogerEbert.com
“An assured and sobering documentary. Employing straightforward, music-free aesthetics that express the grim realities of his story, Funahashi captures both grief and outrage in equal measure, all of it tinged with the displaced and desolate citizens’ regret over having predicated their fates on the very energy-source technology that cost them so much during WW II.