Nuclear Japan Series: ‘Fukushima: Memories of the Lost Landscape’


Gilberto Flores
Staff Writer

On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit Japan just off the coast of the Tohoku region and triggered a massive tsunami that washed away more than 20,000 people living on the coastline. The tsunami also caused three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex to melt down, essentially creating the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

Presenting Japan’s confrontation and reaction to this disaster, the Carsey-Wolf Center’s film series, “Nuclear Japan: Japanese Cinema Before and After Fukushima,” began with the 2011 film “Fukushima: Memories of the Lost Landscape” at Pollock Theater on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. The three-part film series is sponsored by the Carsey-Wolf Center, the Department of Film and Media Studies, and the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies.

“Fukushima: Memories of the Lost Landscape” is director Matsubayashi Yojyu’s third film and first feature documentary following the 2011 catastrophe. The film follows a small community of evacuees from the town of Minamisoma in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, which lies within the 20 kilometers exclusion site of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Immediately following the tsunami and nuclear meltdown, Matsubayashi hurried to the site to provide victims with relief goods; there, he met city councilor Tanaka Kyoko and her neighbors. Matsubayashi follows and lives with the evacuees, and it is at this moment that he begins filming his documentary.

Matsubayashi captures the intimate and challenging moment in the lives of the local people, such as the times they sleep in the school classrooms (designated as temporary living areas) and when they are allowed to momentarily return to their homes to gather any possessions left unaffected. The film paints an intimate picture of a rich local culture that was washed away by tragedy.

After the screening, there was a discussion and Q&A with event moderator Naoki Yamamoto, assistant professor at UCSB’s Film and Media Studies department and organizer of the “Nuclear Japan” film series, and David Novak, an associate professor in UCSB’s Music department. Complications with Novak’s flight from Portland, Ore., could not keep him from joining the audience at Pollock Theater, and he joined via Skype.

Novak is a musicologist with a specialty in Japanese noise music. In the film, music plays a significant role, and Matsubayushi documents several protests in which Japanese musicians take to the streets to protest against nuclear power. Currently, Novak is working on a new project on the ongoing disaster in Japan, especially in relation to the Japanese musicians and their commitment to the anti-nuclear movements.

“When this triple disaster happened in 2011, I was not in Japan, but [attending a conference] in New Orleans,” said Yamamoto. “Needless to say, I was really shocked by the news. But at the same time I wasn’t able to embrace what was happening in Japan as my own experience.”

Yamamoto tried to keep himself updated on the events in Japan, but avoided watching TV news and Internet videos. Yamamoto’s intentional detachment from the disasters in Japan left him with a sense of guilt.

“As a Japanese native, I just thought it would be ethically incorrect to talk about Japanese people suffering from the position of an outsider,” he said.

It wasn’t until moving to Santa Barbara last September that Yamamoto’s opinion on this changed. Yamamoto said that he quickly began seeing the triple catastrophe in Japan as a global issue that affects everyone, not just the region. He cites three reasons for this change. The first being Santa Barbara’s coastal location facing the Pacific Ocean, where the contaminated water from Fukushima drastically disrupted the ecological system of marine life. The second is California’s familiarity with earthquakes, resulting from constantly shifting fault lines. And the third is Santa Barbara’s vulnerability to the constant threat of nuclear disaster, given its proximity to the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant near Avila Beach in San Luis Obispo County, which is built directly above an active fault line.

“Taken together, the specific situation of Santa Barbara allows me to rethink the ongoing disaster in Fukushima, not simply as [a Japanese] problem, but also as our own problem,” said Yamamoto. “So this is why I came to the idea of organizing this film series on the nuclear disaster in Japan.”

The “Nuclear Japan” film series continues with “Odayaka” on April 22 and “Ashes to Honey” on April 29. Check out Carsey-Wolf Center’s website ( for more details.

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