Nuclear Japan Series Concludes with ‘Ashes to Honey’


Gilberto Flores
Staff Writer

“Nuclear Japan: Japanese Cinema Before and After Fukushima,” the Carsey-Wolf Center’s three-part film series, concluded on Tuesday, April 29, with a screening of Kamanaka Hitomi’s 2010 documentary film “Ashes to Honey.” The screening was followed by a discussion and Q&A with director Kamanaka, who joined the audience at University of California, Santa Barbara’s Pollock Theater via Skype.

The “Nuclear Japan” film series presented Japan’s confrontation with and reaction to the disastrous 9.0 magnitude earthquake and the resulting tsunami and nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima on March 11, 2011. The three-part film series was sponsored by the CW Center, the Department of Film and Media Studies, and the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies.

“Ashes to Honey” is the third installment in acclaimed documentary filmmaker Kamanaka’s trilogy of films, which delve into the problems of nuclear power and radiation. Now the film series takes a look at life before 3/11 and how concerns surrounding nuclear power had been long present before Fukushima.

The documentary follows the people of Iwaishima Island, located in the middle of the Inland Sea, who for 28 years have been opposing a plan to build a nuclear power plant near their small town. Takashi, the youngest resident of the island, aspires to live a life based on sustainable energy as he struggles to earn a living for his wife and infant child. Efforts to foster sustainable agriculture have begun on the island, with one resident, Mr. Ujimoto, reclaiming abandoned farmlands. But when the Chugoku Electric Power Company tries to fill in a nearby bay to create man-made land, the islanders set sail to stop the construction of the nuclear power plant in an elaborate protest on land and at sea.

Meanwhile, Kamanaka documents how communities in Sweden are already making concrete efforts to implement these sustainable lives that the Iwaishima people are fighting for, investing heavily in wind and solar energy, as well as sustainable agriculture.

“The film’s main message, especially its urgent call for making the shift from nuclear power to renewable energy sources, is crucial and relevant to anyone living under the threat of nuclear crisis,” said Naoki Yamamoto, assistant professor at UCSB’s Film and Media Studies department and organizer of the “Nuclear Japan” film series.

“As clearly indicated in the film’s focus on Japanese local people’s long-term struggles against the construction of a nuclear plant, the issues of nuclear power had already been visible long before Fukushima,” he said.

The post-screening discussion and Q&A with director Kamanaka Hitomi was moderated by Ann-Elise Lewallen, assistant professor at UCSB’s department of East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies.

Among the many topics covered, Kamanaka discussed her road to starting her trilogy. When she went to Iraq to film a television program, Kamanaka discovered that skyrocketing rates of cancer in Iraqi children were directly related to the large amounts of uranium ammunitions being dropped in the region. However, the Japanese nuclear power industry was providing so much funding to the television stations that she was unable to include that in the program, so they had to drop it. Her producer suggested that they generate funding in another way and that she should go back and make a film on her own. This ultimately led to the project “Hibakusha at the End of the World,” her first documentary of the trilogy.

In her final statements, Kamanaka said that of the 100-plus nuclear power plants in the U.S., the first one to close down should be the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in San Luis Obispo County–which is not too far from the UCSB campus–given its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and its location directly above an active fault line.

“You need to have knowledge,” Kamanaka advised the audience, specifically the students. “Radiation is invisible. If you learn and study what it is, then you can understand how you act when accidents happen.”