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Kurosawa’s nightmare and the voices of Fukushima

Dear Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda,

After the disasters of March 11 occurred, I was reminded of Akira Kurosawa’s 1990 movie, “Dreams.” The film includes one episode, “Mount Fuji in Red,” that depicts explosions at a nuclear power plant near Mount Fuji that actually cause the mountain to erupt. Swarms of people evacuate. The next day the only people left are the Kurosawa character, a mother and her children, and a businessman presumably from the “nuclear village.” The episode ends with the Kurosawa character trying in vain to protect the mother and her children from the poison in the air.

Scholars and critics have noted the film’s allusions to Kurosawa’s autobiographical work, “Something Like an Autobiography.” This isn’t surprising given that the film is supposed to be based on his actual dreams. Some of the similarities are obvious, others aren’t. In “Mount Fuji in Red,” I think Kurosawa made a number of subtle allusions to his own life.

For example, we learn from his autobiography that he had a great fear of fires. He recounted one of his earliest memories of seeing a fire in the distance when strapped to his nurse’s back, and then stated: “Even now I have a strong dislike of fires, and especially when I see the night sky reddened with flames I am overcome by fear.” Thus, it isn’t surprising that he chose to depict the sky in red, and concentrate on the explosions and volcanic eruption. His personal fear is sublimely merged with the danger of a nuclear crisis.

Kurosawa’s memories of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake may have also been recounted in the dream. The heat of fire after the quake had triggered explosions at an arsenal. Kurosawa reflected on the incident:

“In my neighborhood there was actually a man who explained, as if he really believed it, that this sound was volcanoes erupting on the Izu Peninsula a hundred miles south of Tokyo. They were setting off a chain of eruptions, he said, which was heading north toward us. ‘So if it comes to the worst,’ this man continued, ‘I’m going to pack up what I need and get out of here with this thing.’ And he proudly displayed a milk wagon he had found abandoned somewhere.”

Of course, hysteria, explosions and images of evacuation are all included in “Mount Fuji in Red.” Another connection to the earthquake lies in the “expedition to conquer fear” that Kurosawa’s brother dragged him on, through the debris. Kurosawa recounted the countless corpses they saw. He spared us this sight in “Mount Fuji in Red,” but made sure to note that his characters are in close proximity to the corpses at the bottom of the sea.

Also in describing the “excursion,” he noted: “The burned landscape for as far as the eye could see had a brownish red color.” This same color is used to portray the landscape after the crowds disappear and nothing is left but debris and discarded belongings in “Mount Fuji in Red.”

The film and its antinuclear message are very personalized. Kurosawa used his memory of horrific experience and his message, I believe, was that he wished not to see those sights again in Japan.

Of course, the Kanto earthquake could not have been prevented, neither could the Tohoku quake. However, the disaster at Fukushima could have been.

Now, Mr. Noda, is the time to listen to the people of Fukushima, because they have lived through Kurosawa’s nightmare. But unlike his nightmare, their stories are not just based on experience. They are not fiction. They are real and they must be heard. They should be taken into serious consideration when deciding Japan’s future energy policy.

I sincerely hope that the government will do all it can to prevent this tragedy from repeating.

JASON BARTASHIUS
Kyoto

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