Filmmaker focuses on lives near nuke sites

by Keiji Hirano

Kyodo

A documentary that recently began screening chronicles the experiences of Japanese communities hosting nuclear facilities and the high price paid by some of them because of the March 2011 Fukushima meltdown disaster, including farmers and fishermen unable to market their produce because of radioactive contamination.

“I hope I can show that we can’t coexist with nuclear power and it is the duty of each of us to make a choice about energy in the future,” said Kei Shimada, director of “Fukushima, Rokkasho and Message to the Future.” Its first screening took place Saturday in Tokyo.

Shimada, originally a Tokyo-based freelance photographer, started covering nuclear issues in the wake of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine and eventually settled in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, the site of a nuclear fuel cycle complex.

“I wanted to follow the development of the nuclear fuel cycle project on the spot and be close to those living there,” Shimada, 53, said.

Her 12 years living in the village through 2002 resulted in two photo books, one of which won a journalistic award. She was about to start shooting her first movie about Rokkasho when the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, led to Japan’s own nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co.

The enormity of the calamity prompted her to change her original plans and turn her attention to those living in Fukushima in addition to residents of Rokkasho.

One of the people in the documentary is Kazuo Nakamura, a 14th-generation farmer in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, who has had to keep his harvested rice in a storehouse as consumers nationwide shun Fukushima rice after radioactive materials turned up in samples.

Joining an antinuclear demonstration in Tokyo as well as drawing attention to his plight at civic meetings, Nakamura said he is determined to maintain his way of life despite the hardships.

“I will continue farming even if I have to abandon my crops,” he said. “And now I believe it is our duty” to get rid of nuclear facilities, he added, because they “will definitely cause harmful effects to our descendents.”

In Rokkasho, Eisaku Takiguchi continues to catch Pacific cod with his son despite cesium contamination in order to document the catches he could have made. Their silent chagrin is evident as they are shown throwing the fish back into the ocean from their vessel.

Takiguchi, as a young fisherman, led a protest movement against the construction of the nuclear fuel cycle facilities. Decades later, he now says: “I’m still proud of our campaign. I can walk the street with my head held high.”

Shimada became acquainted with him while living in Rokkasho. “I have been impressed with him as someone who stood up against a big power.”

Takiguchi’s son, Kenji, meanwhile, indicates concerns over his future as a fisherman in the village. “I’ve never done anything (other than fish). I would quit this job if I could do something else.”

Shimada included in her film Rokkasho residents who argue that the nuclear facilities have brought jobs and relative prosperity to the village, with a woman involved in the construction business saying: “We are happy here. I wonder what will happen to us if these facilities are terminated.”

“It is true that not a few people in Rokkasho think like that,” Shimada said. “But I think it means the village has depended on the money brought in exchange for hosting the nuclear fuel cycle facilities.

“The nuclear industry has attempted to win the residents over to its side with money so it can build these unwanted facilities in this remote, small village,” she said.

Yukie Tanabe is another victim of the Fukushima disaster who appears in the documentary.

She had to evacuate from her home, only 5 km from the crippled Tepco complex, to Tokyo with her husband and their son.

As an evacuee, she gave birth to her second son and named him Fuku after her family’s home prefecture of Fukushima. The kanji for “fuku” means fortune or blessing.

Despite various hardships imposed on the public, moves to resuscitate the nuclear industry have began emerging since the Liberal Democratic Party-led government was installed in December.

Tatsuya Murakami, the staunch antinuclear mayor of Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, says in the movie: “People in Japan consumed massive amounts of energy, but they have changed since the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The government, the nuclear industry, as well as business leaders, should be aware of it.”

The village promoted itself as a “pioneer” in Japan’s nuclear development after the nation’s first research reactor achieved criticality there in 1957.

Shimada, who describes herself as a “nonprofessional in filmmaking,” said she was supported by many people, including graduates from a film school, during the course of making the documentary.

A group was formed to support her project and it collected around ¥3.5 million to finance the film.

“I received more donations than expected, apparently because this project started shortly after the nuclear crisis in Fukushima,” she said. “And I’m impressed that many donors attached messages expressing their expectations that this film will show the reality communities hosting nuclear facilities.”