Magazine article Filmmaker

Fukushima Story

Magazine article Filmmaker

Fukushima Story

Article excerpt

Just days after the March 2011 tsunami off the Japanese coast, Brooklyn-based photojournalist and documentarian Jake Price found his way to the Tohoku region of northern Japan, the area hardest hit by the devastation. He stayed for months, living with Japan's internal refugees and carefully chronicling their lives as they sought to come to terms with the disaster and rebuild. The result, Unknown Spring (2013), is an online interactive documentary that testifies to its subjects' resilience and humanity in the face of unspeakable odds.

But Price, who has had photography assignments across the globe, is no "parachute journalist." Even before finishing Unknown Spring he knew that he had to make another project on the less visible but longer lasting catastrophe of radiation from the hydrogen explosions at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture. With several more years of filming and sponsorship from POV and other organizations he has now completed a sequel of sorts, The Invisible Season, which launched in English this spring and in Japanese this summer, with further translations in the works. "I've been inspired by Faulkner's fictional Yoknapatawpha County," he says, "where many stories were told from this singular land. Both The Invisible Season and Unknown Spring are distinct stories that chronicle the same land, and, at the same time, they are distinct projects with distinct storylines. By seeing both, I hope that viewers come away with an understanding of the consequences specific to Fukushima and to Miyagi Prefecture to the north."

Both projects are centered around the people of Tohoku, but Unknown Spring is, as Price describes it, "more conceptual in nature, as it lets the user define her or his path and is not character driven. The Invisible Season is all about the voices of people who experienced the meltdown." One of these is Tomoko Kobayashi, a woman barred from her hometown of Odaka and her small hotel, a business that's been in her family for generations, because of potentially lethal radiation. In one of the most striking images in the piece, on the days when the government allows her limited visiting hours to a home she is unsure she'll ever be able to return to permanently, she plants flowers and makes small repairs, an act Price describes as "pragmatic hope, a faithful gamble."

Because of the risk of contamination, Kobayashi's efforts take place in short visits over many days. In fact, the entire Fukushima disaster has felt like it's progressing in slow motion. "Given the slowly moving disaster that has engulfed Fukushima, I had no choice but to make a longitudinal documentary," Price explains. "In many ways The Invisible Season is a study in human and geologic time. The impact from the meltdown on people's lives took about five years to be fully understood." In that time, new life has emerged. "I return to Japan frequently and always visit the people I've gotten to know along what I call 'the tsunami coast.' What fascinates me is to get to know the children who were born after the disaster. With the backdrop of total obliteration [left by the tsunami in the north of the area], new life is coming to the region. I often find myself thinking about what these kids will know about this disaster. What kind of society will they build on the ruins of the last one?"

"The biggest challenge was working amidst the radiation," Price says about the production. "I always traveled with a Geiger counter, and there were some moments within the exclusion zone when it went off the charts. …

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