Berlin Film Festival: 3 documentaries on Japan nuclear disaster


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Less than a year after the massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan devastated whole towns and crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, causing a radioactive disaster, filmic portraits at the Berlin International Film Festival are presenting the human fallout. Three documentaries appearing at the Berlinale provide sort of post-nuclear ghost stories -- landscapes and people haunted by the aftermath of the nuclear accident and residual radiation.

Atsushi Funahashi’s ‘Nuclear Nation,’ which was to debut Friday night in a world premiere, documents life in exile for the residents of Futaba, a town that prospered and then all but perished, its rise and fall tightly woven together with the Fukushima nuclear plant. National subsidies and major tax breaks came to Futaba starting in the 1960s, compensation for the presence of the plant. Along with jobs for citizens, the plant brought money for a new community center, library and sports facilities.


Funahashi’s film shows that all lies empty now, beyond the ornate city gates reading “Atomic energy makes our town and society prosperous” -- the entire city has been designated as an exclusion zone, and will be uninhabitable for years. Says Futaba Mayor Katsutaka Idogawa, “It was the perfect little town.” Now home for 1,400 of the town´s residents is an abandoned high school 155 miles away, where they sleep without privacy, eat tasteless box lunches, and are sporadically lifted from boredom by visits from out-of-tune military bands and a washed-up group of flabby costumed wrestlers.

Alternately moving and chilling are scenes of Futaba´s residents visiting their homes or now-empty foundations on two-hour ‘return permits.’ Wrapped up in safety suits and masks, with radioactivity monitors around their necks, they search for family photos and beloved articles of clothing, or lay flowers at the sites where relatives lost their lives. Though long at its festival screening length of 145 minutes, the film will be released in shorter cinema and television versions.

Toshi Fujiwara’s ‘No Man’s Zone’ screens Sunday, and aspires to more artiness, featuring a voice-over by Armenian Canadian actress Arsinée Khanjian. Fujiwara hopes to show the beauty in the tainted landscape, while leveling a critique of the disaster and how it was handled. And ‘Friends After 3.11,’ bowing internationally here on Monday, follows director Shunji Iwai as he struggles to make sense of the country’s new reality. Iwai wanted to learn everything he could about nuclear power, and traveled the country speaking to researchers, anti-nuclear protesters, energy specialists and 14-year-old Kokoro Fujinami, an activist, former child model and television personality who has emerged as a sort of ‘anti-nuclear idol.’

The documentaries are screening just days after a fresh reminder of the ongoing problems at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. On Feb. 8, workers battled rising temperatures in one of the plant’s reactors, raising new questions about the stability of the facility.

The films should have a special resonance in Berlin, where anti-nuclear sentiment has been strong for years, partly due to secrecy around and problems following the Chernobyl accident in Ukraine in 1986. After the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant in March 2011, the German government decided to phase out all nuclear energy by 2022, and started by immediately shutting several plants.


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