Last year on March 11, Japan suffered a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in its northeastern region called Tohoku. Subsequently, several nuclear reactors faced meltdowns or near-meltdowns forcing residents within 12 miles to evacuate. The National Police Agency of Japan estimates over 15 thousands deaths from the immediate disaster and the effects of the meltdowns are still unclear. The crisis naturally left a deep physical and emotional scar on the Japanese people and still remains a hot topic of discussion. Almost one year from the event, a highly controversial documentary about the aftermath is scheduled to hit theaters.
The doc, 311, was shot 2 weeks after March 11. Four men, movie director Mori Tatsuya, photo-journalist Watai Takeharu, movie director Matsubayashi Yoju, and movie producer Yasuoka Takaharu, drove into the disaster area to see the aftermath with their own eyes. They drove to Fukushima near the power plant — their geiger counter bouncing 10 times normal levels — and through wreckage-strewn Iwate and Miyagi.
At the time, the Japanese press faced tremendous criticism over their coverage of the disaster. Many survivors and television / newspaper viewers saw cameramen and reporters as insensitive for stomping into the homes of overwrought victims and pointing cameras at people’s misery. These four men were the same, if not worse since to many, they looked like a bunch of guys filming for fun.
According to press material, the film attempts to show the disaster from the “opposite” perspective. As ordinary citizens living far away in a safe place, we never saw the staff who were capturing the events we consumed through our monitors and television screens. In 311, the camera points backwards at the four men themselves as they react sadly, excitedly, and despicably to what they see.
The trailer — which shows the four men gearing up in radiation suits, chuckling in excitement and fear, their car as it’s stopped at a roadblock, army tents, scenes of destroyed fields, empty schools, and survivors — has been received negatively by Japanese viewers on YouTube.
“It’s not right to make money off of the disaster, especially so soon”
“It’s insensitive that they talk about how scared they are going to Fukushima. The survivors actually have to live there and face this reality each day.”
“It looks like they’re just having fun on an adventure.”
“They aren’t taking this disaster seriously at all.”
So far, the trailer has only proven to the public that some people in media are indeed abhorrent. However, I’m hopeful that the full film succeeds in conveying their stated theme of seeing the men behind the camera. There is something very important to be said there about the people who are capturing the disaster and the people who are watching the disaster from a safe distance: the simultaneous feelings of disaffection, extreme grief, helplessness, and even entertainment. But, while it would be a shame to see these ideas left uncovered, at the least, the images are sure to be impactful.
311 comes out in select theaters in Japan on March 3. Let us know what you think of the trailer and more in the comments below.