As with many feature films based on real-life incidents, “Fukushima 50,” which opened nationwide March 6 and depicts the actions of the men who struggled to contain the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant following the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011, is a blend of factual exposition and dramatic enhancement. Stories require conflict to keep them interesting, usually with a hero fighting an adversary. In “Fukushima 50,” the hero is plant manager Masao Yoshida (Ken Watanabe), who makes life-and-death decisions in resistance against higher-ups rendered as incompetents.
One of these “villains,” as pointed out by writer and editor Yusuke Nakagawa in the March 6 online edition of Gendai Business, is Naoto Kan, who was the prime minister at the time of the disaster. In the movie, Kan’s name is never uttered and, as Nakagawa points out, the actor who plays him, Shiro Sano, doesn’t look like him, but that’s not what concerns Nakagawa. Sano portrays Kan as a puddle of hysteria whose decisions threaten lives because they make Yoshida’s job more difficult. Kan has an infamous temper and Nakagawa acknowledges that he made mistakes during the course of the emergency, but the movie fails to detail the reasons for his actions. Turning him into a babbling fool makes the filmmakers’ job easier, which is to show Yoshida as a towering figure of courage and resourcefulness in the face of a crisis that could have ended in the destruction of eastern Japan.