“Fukushima 50” – Thoughtful and Thought-Provoking Adaptation of Events of 3/11

Although I have now written about all of the movies that I included in my article “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?“, there are still new movies coming out (even during COVID-19) and amongst these there are disaster movies. One of these is Fukushima 50 (directed by Setsuro Wakamatsu), which I watched this week.

In case you are not familiar with the movie, here is a summary on IMDb.

Workers at the Fukushima Daiichi facility in Japan risk their lives and stay at the nuclear power plant to prevent total destruction after the region is devastated by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9318772/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

Although it was not part of my study and I have no particular plans to continue that study, I could not help but think about the disaster movie conventions that I developed for my article when watching it. Unlike with the narratives (movies and TV series) that I studied for my article, I have only watched Fukushima 50 once so far, so I cannot be sure that I picked up on every detail correctly. However, I believe that the movie has 15 of the 17 conventions. The ones that I believe are missing are:

  • ‘No distancing in time’ – although there are some parts of the movie which are set outside of 2011, most of it is clear about when the events are happening. The movie finishes with making a link between the events at Fukushima and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Although the Olympics themselves were postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the statement remains true. However, there will come a time when even this statement will seem dated.
  • ‘Show dead bodies’ – unusually for a Japanese disaster movie, there were no (as far as I could tell) dead bodies shown in the movie. Certainly none were shown in and around the nuclear power plant as there were no deaths there, but I don’t think any were shown during the scenes of the earthquake and tsunami.

At the moment Fukushima 50 has an average of 6.0 on IMDb. Personally, in case you’re interested, I gave it an 8. I would say that it is definitely one the better disaster movies that I have watched (I have discussed in other posts that disaster movies tend to have low ratings – you can find a list of the ones that I have watched & ranked here).

There were many elements about the movie that I liked. I guess one thing that jumped out at me was how it seemed to be a collection of the disaster narratives related to the JL123 plane crash that I have studied – Climber’s High (2 versions), Shizumanu Taiyo (2 versions), and One-no-Kanata-ni. The director of two of these, Setsuro Wakamatsu, is the director of Fukushima 50. The author, Ryusho Kadota, of the book upon which the movie is based (keeping in mind that it is based upon real events also) was also the author of the book upon which One-no-Kanata-ni was based. The cast also includes people from most, if not all, of the five JL123 dramatizations – including the two protagonists, Koichi Sato (Climber’s High 2005) and Ken Watanabe (Shizumanu Taiyo 2009).

I don’t know how accurately the movie portrays all of what really happened in 2011, but it certainly comes across as believable & contains many ‘pillars of truth‘ – not just in terms of the events themselves, but also typical behaviour in Japanese organisations. I wonder if some of the behavioural aspects and how this is portrayed is influencing the score on IMDb. I have written elsewhere about how the lack of a strong hero character who stands up for themselves (or merely quits) is something that is typical in Japanese stories, but may not transfer well to other audiences.

I’m not sure if it’s a movie that I will be watching again. As great as it is in many ways, it lacks memorable lines or hooks that make me want to watch it again – at least for entertainment. It may be a useful movie to study as an academic exercise though. One thing that I did particularly like was the ending. The credits include actual images of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant being built. But it then finishes with a view out to sea and the sun rising. Unlike the sun which doesn’t set in another of Wakamatsu’s outputs (Shizumanu Taiyo 2009), the rising sun is a much more hopeful symbol and, of course, links to a symbol of Japan itself.

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