By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
“Project Fukushima!” is a documentary examining the Japanese city and prefecture in the wake of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdowns that hit the region in 2011. The film, directed by Hikaru Fujii, focuses intently on a music and arts festival in the region, roughly five months after the disasters, spearheaded by prominent Japanese musician Otomo Yoshihide. It screens Sunday, Nov. 23rd, for free at 2 p.m. (doors open at 1:45 pm) at the Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Washington, located at 1414 South Weller Street in Seattle.
The director took some questions over e-mail. (Special thanks to translator Jonathan Way.)
NWAW: What is your background and how did you get started in filmmaking?
Hikaru Fujii: Born in Tokyo. Living in Tokyo. Spent 10 years in France, from the age of 18. Attended art college there (E.N.S.A.D. / Université Paris 8) and studied modern art, documentary filmmaking, and aesthetics.
NWAW: Where were you and what were you doing when the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster hit? How did you receive news updates? What were your initial reactions to what was going on, and how did those reactions change?
Hikaru Fujii: I was filming in downtown Tokyo. I thought of making sure my staff members were safe, checking if my pregnant wife was safe, and of filming a document of the conditions of evacuees.
After that, I listened to the stories of artists and culturally-involved people who experienced the Kobe earthquake of 1995. Then 3 weeks after the earthquake, I visited the afflicted area and started
documenting on film what culturally- and artistically-connected people were active with there. (Culturally and artistically-involved people were active with things after the 1995 Kobe earthquake, too, but there doesn’t seem to be any record of it on film/video.)
NWAW: What were the hardest hurdles to making the film and how did you surmount them?
Hikaru Fujii: There was an ethical question we were faced with that in sending out a message of “living through Fukushima,” we might restrict the freedom to “not live through Fukushima.” In order to surmount that, we had to go beyond the line dividing determinations of safety vs. danger or hope vs. hopelessness and represent this irresolvable state of affairs just as it was.
This stance opens Project Fukushima! up to criticism, too. The reason Otomo asked me to make this record of the festival was because he had faith that I wouldn’t make the type of film that would be blindly praising and supportive of Project Fukushima!
NWAW: How did Otomo Yoshihide become involved in the film? What are his crucial contributions?
Hikaru Fujii: In May 2011, Otomo and I spoke about the meaning and significance of making a record of this crisis and preserving it so that it could be recovered and watched a hundred years in the future. Now that the Tokyo National Museum of Modern Art has acquired the film, that may become reality.
NWAW: What were the logistics of the festival shown in the film? Who started putting it together? Who joined along the way?
Hikaru Fujii: Otomo Yoshihide, Michiro Endo, and Ryoichi Wago were the representative planners, but the important thing to note is that a whole range of people were collaborating cross-sectorally.
NWAW: What, in your opinion, are the highlights of the festival and the film?
Hikaru Fujii: I could call “Orchestra Fukushima!” a highlight, but it’s not the case that holding a festival was the goal of Project Fukushima! Rather, what was important about the film was depicting what went on after the festival was over. I think we were aiming not for catharsis but for things that could be done that were rooted in a sustainable way of living.
NWAW: The organizers of the festival seem to have avoided mentioning the earthquake or the nuclear meltdowns directly. How did they settle on such a tactic? How successful do you think this was?
Hikaru Fujii: As opposed to facing people who are bloodied on the battlefield and yelling “No war!” at them, I think we found meaning and significance in looking toward new ways of living and new ways of moving forward in the midst of difficult circumstances.
So it’s not that we were avoiding direct mention of the earthquake and nuclear incident, but that we funneled our imagination into other things.
NWAW: How did the festival organizers go about tackling the ethical questions of bringing people to an area devastated by natural disaster, and possibly home to dangerous radiation levels?
Hikaru Fujii: Those are questions that were debated considerably. They took the approach of disclosing information about the radiation and leaving it up to the participants to decide. Also, when you look at it from the standpoint of people continuing to live in Fukushima, having people get together in a part of the city with low levels of radiation takes on a different meaning.
NWAW: How is the film being brought to America? What are the futureplans for it?
Hikaru Fujii: To show the film in America was a decision made by the producer. My future plan for the film is to continue showing it all over. (end)
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at email@example.com.