Freelance journalist Mizue Furui is a frequent visitor to a small housing complex in northeastern Japan for evacuees from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant disaster.
While domestic issues are not her field, she found herself drawn to Fukushima by parallels she saw between the fate of Fukushima evacuees and Palestinians.
“Both of them have been driven from their homes,” says Furui, who has covered Palestinian issues, particularly concerning women and children, for almost 30 years.
“I wanted to report how the evacuees have lived and what they think, given the unjust hardships,” she says. Next week marks the fifth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, which was followed by a massive tsunami that triggered a nuclear crisis centered in the Tohoku region.
Furui’s effort evolved into a documentary film titled “Moms of Iitate — Together with the Soil,” focusing on two female evacuees in their late 70s from the village of Iitate, adjacent to the Fukushima No. 1 complex.
All residents of Iitate in Fukushima Prefecture were required to evacuate following the nuclear meltdown, which became the world’s worst since Chernobyl, with the two women — Eiko Kanno and Yoshiko Kanno — eventually settling in temporary housing in the city of Date, also in Fukushima Prefecture.
Eiko and Yoshiko, who have both lost their husbands, although not to the disaster, were neighbors and close friends in Iitate. Their children and grandchildren have also taken shelter in other cities.
Furui, who started visiting Fukushima shortly after the triple disasters occurred, first met the two women in 2013 while they were involved in a program to teach people outside the prefecture how to make traditional Iitate foods such as miso and rice cakes.
Believing that people might not be able to resume life in Iitate for decades, the two women hoped their town’s food culture could nevertheless be preserved. They still also till the soil to maintain their old way of life.
Furui eventually began shooting footage of their food-preservation efforts and their refugee life as farmers.
“When the time came to make miso, we did so, and when the time came to harvest rice, we did so. … It was quite natural for us to secure our own food by ourselves,” Eiko says in the film. “I can be free from the fear of radiation and feel, even for just a moment, as if I am staying in my own village by touching the soil.”
Furui says Eiko reminds her of Ghada Ageel, a Palestinian woman who collected and recorded narratives and songs performed by elderly Palestinians about their lives and struggles under the Israeli occupation to hand down to later generations.
Furui’s first film, “Ghada — Songs of Palestine,” depicts the Palestinians’ lives through the eyes of the woman.
In her latest film, Furui says she wants to present people whose lives have been changed by the nuclear accident through the eyes of Eiko and Yoshiko.
“I had wanted to end my days looking out at the mountains around the village,” Eiko says. “The village and its people lived together with nature’s bounty.”
Furui first visited the Gaza Strip and West Bank with her camera as a rookie journalist at the age of 40. Since quitting her job as an office worker, she has also covered Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Uganda.
Her photos, videos and articles have been carried by major magazines and TV news shows.
She now hopes to continue following the evacuees from Iitate until they return home, if it is possible during their lifetime.
“Iitate was beautiful, with cherry blossoms blooming and birds singing, when I visited there in May 2011,” Furui says. “It is sad that such a village was damaged.”
“Moms of Iitate,” whose production costs were covered by around 300 mostly individual donors, will be screened at a Tokyo movie theater in May, followed by screenings in other cities in Japan.
Furui says she plans to create an English version of the film so it can be screened at international film festivals and other overseas venues.
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