No Man's Land (Mujin Chitai)
To me this sounded the perfect way to tell the story and present the disaster and to allow the audience to find some personal connection, and with the promise of footage from inside the disaster areas No Man's Land was the Fukushima related documentary for me.
Of course it isn't just about the Fukushima nuclear power plant for the disaster that struck Japan was a series of earthquakes and a terrible tsunami with waves that swept across large parts of the country, it was a disaster that we all saw reported on television but since the waves have subsided we've heard little and what we have heard has not been from those affected but from reporters and officials.
This film and the others visiting the Film Festival seemed as though they would be our first chance to understand and hear from the people themselves.
I was disappointed with No Man's Land for what I was expecting from the film is not what I got. The opening voice over and panning shot tells it all as it talks about how we get used to these scenes of disaster which are shown all too often and forget the human impact, a lengthy statement which is immediately contradicted by the opening panning shot that lasts for an absolute age and manages to desensitise us to the scenes of devastation within the first few minutes of the film.
The same type of lingering, slow panning shot of devastation is used a number of times through the film and that just keeps on compounding the feeling of desensitisation. It's something I don't actually agree with, we don't really get desensitised to images like this, they may lose their initial shock value but give them some human connection in them and they'll hit home every time.
It's about twenty minutes into the film before we move away from these shots, yes really twenty minutes, and get a talking head, an actual survivor who is talking about the devastation to his land, his family and the people who lived around him. Up until then we are shown more and more disconnected scenes of devastation from places we have no real understanding of in terms of location or what they were before, all with no real human connection.
The film comprises of far too many longs shots of landscapes and a lot of these shots don't even show any of the devastation. While they looked very nice I was at times wondering what I was looking at and why, especially considering what this film is supposed to be about.
These shots are accompanied by a voice over which seemed to ramble into the philosophical a bit too much and starts making way too many assumptions and voicing too many opinions on behalf of the audience, something I really didn't appreciate and soon became tired of. I just didn't understand why the voice over was there for these sequences however it does help string together our understanding of the on screen and audio interviews with the survivors and this is where the film managed to recover ground and where it should have been for its entirety.
There are some key interviews with survivors talking about their homes, their lives since, and the struggles that they are facing since the immediate threat has cleared. It was during these scenes that we are finally began connecting with the human element of the story, and filming these against the backdrop of their homes and villages are where the audience is captured and where the film was strongest. These moments allow you to connect with the people and see their pain, their confusion and their disbelief at what has happened, as well as at times share their stubborn need to get back to their homes and their lives. These people and these scenes make you feel the impact of the disaster, feel their heartache and a whole lot of respect for the way they are looking to the future.
Even though these sequences were the core of the film and held the emotional power they still suffered from the problem that the rest of the film suffered from, editing. At times the interviews are too long and drawn out, sometimes they feel uncomfortable with the interviewer not saying anything and letting the people being interviewed either meander off in their stories or standing in silence, scenes which made me feel as though I was intruding on a private moment.
The interviewees also revealed a number of key failures on the part of the rescue and support efforts by the government, big failures that seemed as though they had caused a lot of problems and distress and would continue to do so for years to come. Yet as important as these seemed they just weren't followed up on. It was clear that some being interviewed did not want to talk about these issues but some did and some investigation by the film-makers or explanation from the voice over would have educated the audience about the serious issues still going on in the region rather than moving on over them.
Another aspect where the film created more problems for itself was about location. We kept seeing devastated locations and interviewed people in different towns and yet there was no explanation of where these people and places were in Japan or in terms of the events during the tsunami. This didn't help reveals such as the town that actually has the highest radiation level than the place that was officially carrying the horrifying title. Not knowing where this place was in relation to the other or the plant itself meant it was a meaningless fact that washed over me whereas seeing it and understanding it might have made me retain it better and perhaps spread the knowledge on.
There was one massive issue that was just left unaddressed, that of the sudden expansion of the exclusion zone which I would have thought we would have heard more about through the voice over and the interviews, unfortunately no real explanation or visual followed to tell us more about this and to explain the impact.
Throughout the film I was time watching (as I watched it digitally rather than in the cinema) and couldn't help it, cursing myself every time I did but finding I just couldn't help myself. During the interviews I was much more engaged though and got pulled right back in. The people's stories are where the power of this film lies but unfortunately we don't see enough of them or are aided in understanding their plight other than the moments that they are talking directly to the camera.
There are some powerful interviews, the older couple outside their house that has managed to stay standing wondering how they were going to rebuild and commenting on the living conditions they have now; the man visiting the grave site talking about the levels of radiation in the town and the sudden expansion of the exclusion area, and people from the villages watching the same footage we were and commenting on places they were not allowed to see. Such scenes are where the story telling and the core of the documentary lie and yet they didn't go deep enough, weren't followed up on, and were not explained well enough to the audience.
I had hoped that No Man's Land would concentrate more on the people and we would have seen lots and lots of interviews with those living around the zone and still explaining the problems they have survived, the problems they are facing, and revealing the shortcomings of the efforts to assist them to date. More so I hoped it would come with some answers and explain to me as a person who has never visited Japan just how vast the impact of the initial disaster and the exclusion areas is.
Unfortunately the film didn't. It needed a harsher editor, more visuals to help understand locations and scale, and much more of the actual people talking about their homes and towns for that's where the real power of the film lay and that's what we needed more of. Above all we needed more investigation of the issues that some of the villagers raised, issues that were never picked up on, that seemed to be major failings on the part of the rescue and support effort and ultimately a failing of the peoples basic needs.
All that said there are still some unbelievable scenes to witness and some of the stories that are told are shocking enough to make you question what is happening to these people and how are they being helped to rebuild their lives.