(Movie still courtesy Yojyu Matsubayashi/Fukushima: Memories of a Lost Landscape)

Memories of a lost landscape

I-House screens Fukushima documentary.

March 11 marked the one-year anniversary of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami disaster. To commemorate the event, International House hosted a screening of the 2011 documentary Fukushima: Memories of a Lost Landscape. Afterward the filmmaker, Yojyu Matsubayashi, answered questions at a packed Coulter Lounge.

The documentary follows evacuee families near the now-infamous nuclear plants. Most are retired couples, bewildered and frightened by what happened and by the looming threat of a nuclear disaster. Matsubayashi headed straight for the nuclear plant zone after the tsunami and, even when he was denied permission because he was a freelancer, carried on filming—something that he notes in acerbic commentary during some of the film’s lighter moments.

The tragedy in Memories of a Lost Landscape is subtle, tucked away under the hesitant but resilient smiles of the Tanaka family, who oversee the evacuations of the houses in Soma from their own evacuee quarters in the local high school, and their friends and neighbors in the town of Soma, a few kilometers from the nuclear power plant. The camera sweeps over tsunami-destroyed fields, lingers on a group of women who have lost their friend, and records people living in an uncertain limbo. Matsubayashi offers to photograph an elderly couple who have finally decided to evacuate. The black-and-white picture is taken outside the beautiful home they must leave. As they pose, the wife smiles: “This is the first picture of us since we got old.”