The Carsey-Wolf Center’s three-part film series, “Nuclear Japan: Japanese Cinema Before and After Fukushima,” continued into its second week with a screening of Uchida Nobuteru’s 2012 film “Odayaka” at Pollock Theater on Tuesday, April 22. The “Nuclear Japan” film series presents Japan’s confrontation with and reaction to the disastrous 9.0 magnitude earthquake, the subsequent tsunami, and the resulting nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima on March 11, 2011. 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.
“Odayaka” is writer and director Uchida Nobuteru’s third feature film, following his successful 2010 film “Love Addiction,” which won Uchida the Grand Prize at the Tokyo Filmex film festival. “Odayaka” has the distinction of being one of the very few Japanese fiction films that deal with the nuclear disaster in Fukushima and its aftermath.
The film takes place in a suburb of Tokyo, far from the disaster zone yet near enough to induce justifiable paranoia and psychological distress for many. The story follows two young women as they struggle with mounting concerns about exposure to radiation that escaped from the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. The women, Saeko and Yukako, feel more and more alone as they fight against the common tendency to act as if everything is under control.
Saeko, who was left by her husband on the day of the disaster, is bullied by the other mothers at her daughter’s school and accused of spreading paranoia about radiation levels at the school playground. Yukako is struggling to convince her husband to request a transfer at his job to a more secure location, away from the threat of radiation. Through Saeko and Yukako, Uchida explores the angst and misconception surrounding the radiation exposure many Japanese people suffered from in the aftermath of the 3/11 triple disaster.
The original Japanese title of the film, “Odayaka na nichijô,” translates to “tranquil everyday life.” Uchida’s main motivation behind this original title was to disturb those who pretend to have a perfectly normal and tranquil everyday life, especially after the disaster–those that completely dismissed the seriousness of the situation in Japan.
“When you hear about fiction films about disasters, you might expect science-fiction disaster films such as ‘Independence Day’ and ‘The Day After Tomorrow,’” said Naoki Yamamoto, assistant professor at UCSB’s Film and Media Studies department and organizer of the “Nuclear Japan” film series. “Or you might think of [drama] films focusing on the people’s recovery from a traumatic experience and the reconstruction of a harmonious community. [‘Odayaka’] belongs to neither of these categories. Rather, it addresses both the invisibility and permeability of the nuclear catastrophe in the space of everyday life by powerfully articulating psychological impacts of the disaster through the lens of gender dynamics.”
The film’s use of gender dynamics was one of many topics covered during the discussion and Q&A with Yamamoto and Margherita Long, associate professor at UC Riverside’s department of Comparative Literature and Foreign Languages, after the screening. Long’s fields of study include modern Japanese literature and film, feminist politics and theory, psychoanalysis, and Japanese visual culture.
“For the first three quarters of the film, he sets us up to fear that the responsibility for emotionally processing the 3/11 disaster in Tokyo will fall entirely to women,” said Long, “and that these women will be dismissed as one in the same, [as hysterical and] unlawful women. Reduced to a caricature, she will be bullied and silenced as part of the nationalist project of disavowing 3/11, so that Japan can recover both its economy and its national pride.”
This nationalist approach to the 3/11 disaster, wherein many Tokyo residents dismissed the seriousness of the nuclear disaster’s aftermath, is perhaps the biggest issue addressed by the film. Long addressed three powerful post-3/11 mythologies that film’s supporting characters often subscribed to.
The first myth is seen in many of the scenes where the characters are expressing concerns about contamination in their food. The mainstream media in Japan largely ignored independent Internet media and farmers who published their own crops’ radiation measurements. As the government or a credible news source never addressed radiation in food, grocery stores used that fact to make it seem like people who were concerned about radiation in food were unreasonable or paranoid. They wanted people to keep buying in order to support farmers and keep the Japanese economy from slowing down.
“It’s a vivid metaphor for the way patriotism can function literally as a poison,” said Long.
The second myth is the idea that, in Tokyo, worrying about radiation is worse than the radiation itself. And the third is the myth that the responsibility of maintaining safety standards when it comes to things like food should be left solely to the government. These two ideas are often parroted by many of the characters in the film. Uchida tells this gripping story of conflicted priorities, emotions, and psychologies after the 3/11 disaster by exposing the dangers of these misguided ideas.
The “Nuclear Japan” film series concludes with “Ashes to Honey” on Tuesday, April 29.