Yesterday, I attended a screening of a documentary film, A New Moon Over Tohoku by Japanese Canadian Filmmaker, Linda Ohama. Linda is a third generation (Sansei) Japanese Canadian known for her film, Obachan’s Garden.
A New Moon Over Tohoku is about the people who suffered from the Great East Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011, in the Tohoku area of Japan.
Linda said it all started because of her granddaughter. When they first found out about the earthquake and tsunami, the granddaughter, then 7 years-old, asked her what they could do for them. Eventually, Linda flew to Japan to volunteer in Tohoku area.
As she got to know the people in Tohoku, they asked her to create a film to tell their stories. Initially, she turned it down. This changed when she first visited the “No-Go” zone near Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Seeing the traffic lights still working and changing the lights in a ghost town, she cried. Linda then decided to interview the people in Tohoku, specifically, in the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima. Two and half years later, the film is being presented here in Canada. A New Moon Over Tohoku premiered at the Calgary International Film Festival late last month (September 2016).
Linda has brought guests from Japan for the Canadian tour. Inlcluding, Mrs. Kanako Sasaki, an acupuncturist who appears in the film and tells us her survival story. She was treating a patient when the earthquake hit. The film tells the story of how she got her patient out and then tried to locate her own family. Then the Tsunami hit her town of Otsuchi.
Kanako described the scene after she got scooped up in Tsunami “Hell”, as people, houses, and vehicles swam by her. She tells of how the tanks on boats exploded, floating by, and setting fires to homes with people still trapped inside. Kanako herself was swept up and carried by the rising waters flowing through the streets of her village. Finally, she was rescued by friends and neighbours. Once rescued, and despite being injured herself and still soaked in cold, wet clothes, she continued on through the night helping others. Her story is so powerful, it made my cry.
The film introduces the stories of many other people and places, such as the people who have homes and businesses in the “No-Go” zone. Included is a Samurai family who are determined to continue their tradition of Soma Nomaoi (Samurai festival with horses). Other powerful and movies stories include those of mothers concerned with radiation and how they feel guilty about letting their children be exposed to radiation, and how they feel oppressed for not being able to speak their mind honestly about their fear of radiation and at the same time not wanting to isolate themselves for speaking out… All the complexities, fears, and concerns of the people affected in the “No-Go” zone are expressed and examined.
I personally visited the Tohoku area back in 2013. All the places I went to were hard to visit, but Okawa Elementary School that had lost 70% of their children, was particularly heartbreaking. Yesterday at lunch before the screening, Linda told me about a father from Okawa area. This father had lost his only child, a 12 year old girl who was at Okawa Elementary School. Linda said, “He said he was so lucky.”
“I thought I misunderstood at first. He lost his only child. How can he be lucky? But he said he was so lucky he got to be a father.”
I couldn’t hold back my tears.
Linda says many people in Tohoku turned negatives into positives like this. I think they have no choice, in order to continue forward.
But it’s not all sad. The film also features brave, happy, and optimistic people.
The screening in Victoria was a success. It is an emotional film. There were not many dry eyes in the theatre, but I was particularly grateful for Kanako (with her daughter, Sera, who is also in the film) for coming all the way to Canada to share her story. Her wish was for this film to be seen by as many people as possible, not just in Canada and overseas, but also in Japan. She also asked us to remember to be grateful for what we have, as you never know when it might be gone.
As I said my goodbye to Kanako, I offered my help in any way I can. She said, “We have just only begun.” I am grateful for this new friendship.
There will be more screenings in Japan starting in December. If you want to book a screening for your community or organization, please check out the film website.