Directed by Atsushi Funahashi
In one of this Japanese documentary’s most devastating passages, the mayor of the township of Futaba recounts the recent history of a community whose prosperity was tied to the nearby Fukushima Daiichi plant. The late-60s construction of the nuclear facility meant residents no longer had to leave town for work, and a robust program of reinvestment in the community followed—a library, a train station, and a marina house were among the structures that rose in the shadow of the cooling towers. But as property values around the plant gradually depreciated, the town approached bankruptcy, forcing it to seal a 21st-century deal to break ground on Reactors 7 and 8.
Of course, that construction would never commence. Nuclear Nation finds the inhabitants of Futaba as they’ve established temporary residence at a far-flung abandoned school, still reeling from the events that began on March 11, 2011, when an earthquake triggered a tsunami that in turn precipitated the meltdown of a large portion of Fukushima. The movie follows a handful of these refugees as they mourn what they’ve lost, rail against officials performing empty crisis-spin on TV, and confront the realities of more permanent resettlement. Filmmaker Atsushi Funahashi sticks to a biding-time rhythm that prevents this course-of-a-year portrait (which premiered in 2012 at Berlin in a 145-minute cut, nearly an hour longer than the version playing in New York) from becoming wholly engrossing. Nuclear Nation is not, like the recent German documentary Under Control or Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s extraordinary 1999 Pripyat, a locked-in nuclear doc in which nearly every observational image conveys its own current of alarm.
Funahashi’s film is not always visually stunning, but he does present some startling and affecting footage. The scale of the radiation and the ruin becomes clear when many Futaba residents go back to their hometown on “temporary return permits,” suiting up in full hazmat regalia before boarding a bus that takes them through a rolling field of devastation—ships washed ashore on terrain that’s been singed to the color of rust, with structures flattened to the skeletal traces of their foundations. We follow one man as he revisits his still-standing exclusion-zone home to reclaim a few items of sentimental significance from among the disarray, bagging up a bunch of his DVDs, including the footage from his two daughters’ wedding receptions. Later on, back on safer ground, he cues up one of these discs. It’s a simple action, but one that’s mind-scramblingly sad to witness—here is a commemorative item that’s also now become a relic recovered from a lost world.
Opens December 11