Japan in a Day
Credits: Directed by Gaku Narita
Synopsis: The first anniversary of the catastrophic Great East Japan Earthquake fell on Sunday 11 March 2012. To commemorate the tragedy, Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions and Fuji TV collaborated on a project inspired by Kevin McDonald’s Life in a Day, inviting people across Japan to capture an element of their day.
Japanese quake anniversary examined through a lens.
The film avoids becoming a diatribe about the dangers of nuclear energy.
TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Attempts to emotionally process 2011’s catyclysmic combination of eathquake/tsunami and nuclear disaster have started to manifest in Japanese cinema. Some of this has been fictional like Sion Sono's acclaimed Himizu and Ryuichi Hiroki's devastating The River.
Much of it has been in documentary form including Stu Levy’s reportage-like Pray For Japan and the Fuji TV network and Ridley Scott produced Japan In A Day, which premiered at Tokyo’s International Film Festival.
Building on Scott’s previous use of a similar concept (Life In A Day, Britain In a Day) Fuji TV invited people to shoot on March 11, 2012, the first anniversary of the disaster. Over 8,000 video diaries were submitted.
The film starts at midnight as the anniversary breaks and samples freely from the numerous submissions (though nowhere near 8,000-plus) over the next 24 hours, all the way into the first moments of the following day. The range of material is too varied to encapsulate. Some of it feels glib. Other parts are self-consciously sombre. But when the real feelings break through - either in absurdity or a flood of genuine sadness - the film becomes a genuinely transcendent experience.
Some moments are both solemn and silly. A father orders his children inside as they are close to exceeding safe levels of daily radiation exposure. No more than three years old, the defiant son just wants to play in the yard, and wilfully runs away as he pursues a natural (but now unsafe) activity.
Yet, the film avoids becoming a diatribe about the dangers of nuclear energy. A brief clip of Nobel prize winner Oe Kenzaburo speaking at an anti-nuclear rally is counterbalanced by images of a parade of anti-nuclear protestors walking in the rain, while an unseen male flatly describes protest as futile. Is Japan’s pro-nuclear lobby too corrupt to change? Or must the need for nuclear power outweigh all other considerations? The belief driving the voiceover’s observation of futility remains unexplained.
If the film has a climax, it is solitary moment of a man talking directly to the camera of his daughter’s birth mere hours before the earthquake hit and how post-earthquake he found himself sorting through bodies instead of celebrating. To divulge more, is to rob the film of its most potent moment, but this traumatic confession is devastating.
The finale highlights a questionable aspect of humankind’s relationship with visual technology. A few minutes into March 12, 2012, a woman gives birth. Soon after, the father gazes lovingly at the newborn in the crib. Within the same shot, the mother just as adoringly looks via a camera viewfinder, digital photographs of the child taken by the father. It felt curious, given her baby was still within glancing distance, that the mother would choose to look at photos. Does such technology really allow us to savour the moment, or does the embrace of an image mean a displacement of something important that – in the pre-digital era – we might feel and absorb less immediately, but more truthfully? It's not a question the film was designed to tackle, but the shot's inclusion casts unease over all that proceeds it.
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