Day 2 of the TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (TIFF), and I’m looking forward to catching much talked about documentary JAPAN IN A DAY. It’s very encouraging to see a feature documentary as one of two opening movies at the festival, and I have a feeling that this screening is going to be memorable. Arriving suitably prepared for some very difficult scenes, I still wasn’t expecting this piece to have so much emotive power, spending the larger part of the screening in tears. Having seen already a slew of dreadfully made and distasteful bandwagoning documentaries on the 2011 Tohoku earthquake (frankly, which all make me sick to my stomach) in which over 15,000 people died and many thousands more went missing or were left with injuries and broken lives, this turned out to be one that I believe serves a positive purpose and is executed with a suitable degree of sincerity and respect.
Receiving over 8,000 video submissions after a public call out by executive producer Ridley Scott, footage was selected and montaged into this slow-paced but fascinating film documenting the current lives and responses of affected people one year on from 11 March 2011.
Some of the footage is so raw that it’s near impossible not to be pulled in to this movie and to empathise with the frustration, pain and pure tragedy of the protagonists’ experiences. We’re presented with literal videoshots of their lives, with scenes of temporary housing provided to the homeless, survivors digging around wreckage to locate even the faintest remains of loved ones’ existence, and traumatised individuals struggling to find a way to move forwards and grieve what they have witnessed. One man who lost his parents, wife and daughter, talks to the camera from his tiny temporary room, relating the horror at finding them all dead in a car which they had used in an attempt to flee the tsunami. Another man talks of his personal trauma at the memory of treading onto the dead body of a 7-year old girl in order to gain a foothold to rescue other people. These are people who have been forced to live a much simpler life, and as the first gentleman points out, in most cases to exist alone.
The incredible strength of resilience, patience and philosophy demonstrated by Japanese survivors towards the disaster and their loss is carefully balanced with heartwrenching personal tragedies and disturbing longterm consequences faced by the communities including the radiation released from the crippled Fukushima power plant.
While by no means a ‘perfect’ movie – you’re constantly aware of the engineered heartstring tugging and sugar-sweetness while brushing over the horrific abandonment of the stricken area by authorities and the outside world, and the scenes with Adeyto come across as self-indulgent but predictable given her celebrity status in Japan – the film is an important documentation of a stage in the healing and grieving process for Japan from a purely cinematic and educational point of view, and it certainly should be credited for at least handing over the mic and video power to those directly impacted by Japan’s largest ever quake.
We head to the press conference for American movie YELLOW starring Heather Wahlquist and a host of quality actors including Sienna Miller, Ray Liotta, David Morse, Melanie Griffith and Gena Rowlands. Director and write Nick Cassevetes and Heather are in attendance.
Japanese press conferences are fascinating at – whereas in the west journos fight over each other to get a question in, the Japanese press members are normally so polite and shy that presenters are left wanting and here at TIFF it’s no different. It’s a very respectful environment, many of the journos themselves massive film buffs.
They talk about the great difficulties in getting the film made and how lady luck came to their rescue at one point. It was an inspiring press conference, and it’s encouraging to see Cassevetes with his sterling career taking time out to support the making of independent movies which in this age of austerity and heavily commercialised industry is no easy feat.