“FUKUSHIMA 50”： MUST-SEE FILM FOR EVERYONE
I had the chance last weekend to attend the world premiere of “Fukushima 50” in Tokyo. The two-hour film depicts how the 50 dedicated men and women at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Plant (1F) of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) risked their lives on March 11, 2011 to save the plant from a total meltdown following a magnitude 9 earthquake and colossal tsunami.
The team of TEPCO employees included both managers from the company’s Tokyo headquarters and locally-hired workers. Their heroic efforts in effect not only saved Fukushima, the northern Japanese prefecture dear to their hearts, but Japan itself.
Many media representatives thronged the spacious hall at the Tokyo International Forum, with its 1,500 seats fully occupied by applicants whose chances of winning an invitation were only one in 200. The premiere was preceded by a performance by several prominent musicians, including world-famous violinist Ryu Goto, who played the theme from the film in front of a full orchestra. That Tsuguhiko Kadokawa, the producer, went so far as to invite someone of Goto’s stature gives a sense of just how much he put into this film. Ryusho Kadota, who wrote the book on which the film is based, said:
“This is going to be a spectacular event…”
In his 2016 book entitled He Saw the Chasm of Death: Masao Yoshida and the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant (KADOKAWA, Tokyo), Kadota faithfully depicts the thoughts and actions of the 50 men and women at 1F, as well as those of their families. The gigantic nuclear power plant with its six reactors is spinning out of human control. The men and women on the site work as one to try and regain control. When all hope appears gone, F1 superintendent Yoshida and Toshio Izaki, head of the main control room, conjure up the faces of their staff who are ready to die with them in their efforts to save the plant. They have chosen to sacrifice their lives with pride, and their actions reflect their conviction.
That is why the world called them the “Fukushima 50,” giving them due respect for having honorably held out to the last. What Kadota depicts in his book is the true Japanese spirit that prompted them to behave selflessly under desperate circumstances.
When the premiere started soon after the performance by Goto and greetings by leading actors Ken Watanabe and Koichi Sato, I was surprised by a sudden, totally unexpected physical response on my part. It began when the scene of the gigantic earthquake abruptly appeared on the screen at the outset. My body reacted spontaneously. My chest suddenly felt tight as I clinched my fists in spite of myself. Those of us in Tokyo certainly felt the jolt when the once in a millennium quake occurred off the Fukushima coast at around 2:46 p.m. on March 11, 2011, but it must not have been even remotely close to what the people in Fukushima, Miyagi, and Iwate Prefectures experienced. And yet, my body reacted intensely to the scene of the quake. How then will the people who were much closer to the epicenter respond when they see this film?
“Sincere and Respectful Japanese”
After the premiere, I spoke to Ms Yumiko Nishimoto, a resident of the town of Hironomachi, with whom I have been regularly communicating since 3/11. She was taken to an evacuation center with only the clothes on her back but has since returned to join in the efforts to rebuild her hometown. She observed:
“It has almost been ten years since the quake occurred, but each year when the afternoon of March 11 comes, my memory automatically slips back to the afternoon of March 11, 2011. Our 100-inch television fell on the floor and small plates flew across the kitchen. In a mad rush, I ran out of my house to see roof tiles flying all over. A gray storm, formed by sand buffeted by gusty winds, enveloped the entire neighborhood. Lying face down on the ground was the only thing I could do in order to breathe. That scene has constantly haunted me ever since. That is why I have made it a rule to keep indoors every March 11 without going anywhere. I haven’t seen the film—too frightening for me.”
But Nishimoto expects the film to pull no punches in faithfully documenting the disaster and its aftermath, stressing:
“What each of the victims, including myself, knows and has experienced may be limited. I sincerely hope that the film is a compilation of all our experiences, testimonies, and thoughts so that it will be a truthful chronicle of everything we saw, said, and did—good and bad.”
From that point of view, the “sins” committed by the Democratic administration (2009-2012) led by Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano are all the more conspicuous now. Putting that aside, author Kadota had this to say about the film:
“The film detaches itself from politics, i.e., a discussion of the pros and cons of the nation’s nuclear power generation. What I truly want people to understand from this film and my book is that those 50 people at F1 acted as sincere and respectful Japanese. What spurred them into such heroic action was their commitment to—and the pride they took—in their work, along with their love of their families and F1. How courageously the unnamed local hires worked so closely with their superintendent from TEPCO’s head office in fulfilling their responsibilities to save the ill-fated plant. One cannot discuss Fukushima without coming to grips with this fact.”
Although the world has hailed the “Fukushima 50” who fought so valorously, the liberal daily Asahi Shimbun criticized them, charging that they “disobeyed TEPCO’s orders and fled the scene.” Everyone knows today that the accusations by the daily are entirely groundless.
Even more sinister was then Prime Minister Kan, well played by Shiro Sano in the film as a vacuous leader who made a rapid series of unreasonable demands of F1 with absolutely no regard for the situation at the site. Did he have any idea how bad the timing of his “on-site visit” was to an effective control of the reactors? The circumstances surrounding his visit, set down to the minute, have now been recorded forever. They will be a part of our collective memory.
Decade after Mega-Quake
Although Kadota and his teammates take care not to politicize Japanese nuclear power generation or criticize our politicians in the film, the actions, including those of Kan and Edano, have already spoken louder than words. Nishimoto emphasized:
“What I feel particularly strongly as a citizen of Fukushima is how seriously the erratic policies pursued by Kan, Edano and other Democrats have impaired the lives of the people in the region, not only the victims. Their failed policies still have lingering effects today. The Democratic administration was made up of lawmakers who understood virtually nothing about nuclear power generation, how to cope with the disaster, or how to implement a recovery. If they didn’t understand these matters, they naturally should have made an effort to learn. But, alas, they never bothered to learn.”
Her stern criticism is also directed at the government party—the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Although the LDP has been in a position to carry out specific policies pertaining to Japan’s nuclear power generation as part of its responsibilities to take corrective measures for the Democrats’ transgressions, it has so far failed to deliver the goods.
Many people in Fukushima have already seen the film, as its domestic preview appropriately started there. The Fukushima Minyu reporter who appears in the film is a member of the prefectural assembly in real life. Nishimoto has discussed the film with the ex-reporter, members of his family, and her friends who attended the preview. She remarked:
“Every one of them told me that, as far as they are concerned, the facts depicted in the film are true.”
Nishomoto wants to be “a little stronger mentally” this year, as the tenth year since the mammoth quake starts in March. She hopes to be able to spend the afternoon of every March 11 like any ordinary afternoon going forward. She feels she may finally be able to bring herself to see the movie.
I cried watching the film, and so did the gentlemen sitting on my right and left. I think
I cried because the film allowed us to touch the spirit of the genuinely respectful Japanese men and women at F1. Far from what the Asahi and Kan claimed, none of them fled the site. They chose to stay behind instead, fighting gallantly and risking their lives to save their plant, their environment, and Japan itself for that matter. The film has a mission to communicate this fact to the world. A beaming Kadokawa told me:
“We have agreements to show this film in 73 countries as of March.”
I hope many people around the world will see this film. But before that, I hope many Japanese will see it. And one other thing to add before I close: the original book by Kadota is well worth reading. (The End)
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 887 in the January 30, 2020 issue of The Weekly Shincho)