FurusatoReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 05/19/17 00:47:35
(Worth A Look)
SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2017: According to the director's introduction for "Furusato" - a low-key documentary about the people still living in a city near the Fukushima Daichi reactor - most people simply translate the title as "hometown", but a more poetic reading is "the first and last landscapes one sees". That's something to keep in mind while watching the film, which is far from rabble-rousing or blame-seeking, but instead something of a chronicle of stubbornness and inertia, as people try to continue their lives despite what they face.The hometown examined is Minamisoma, located at such a distance from the reactor that the border between officially inhabitable and evacuated runs through the center of the city. As the film opens, evacuated families are returning - some just to quickly recover their possessions, others to work their family farm, others because their home is a shrine, and maybe they would have resettled if that were not the case. As volunteers attempt to meticulously remove and test the black dust that has blown into the area, the town struggles to return to normal, even as many have seen the writing on the wall and left.
Director Thorsten Trimpop does not spend a lot of time with experts; the fellow from the power company tends to talk in banal generalities and it slowly becomes clear that Kenji, the man with a hazmat suit doing much of the testing and cleaning is not doing so in any sort of official capacity. Instead, he mostly follows a group of ordinary people, though he varies his approach: The woman who returned because her home is a shrine spends most of her time on-screen talking directly to the camera, with frustration and fatalism coming to the fore much more quickly than might be expected, while Miwa, a woman in her twenties, occasionally makes an aside as she and her father go about the work of trying to work a poisoned farm. The film is affecting, at times because it can be stoic as opposed to overtly passionate, zeroing in on this interesting group and letting them just be rather than spending a lot of time filling the gaps of their stories.
Though Trimpop spends much of the film observing and conversing with his subjects, he does a few interesting things - especially toward the start of the film - that make for intriguing use of the medium. The film opens with a time-lapse of seismograph readings, and unnerving combination of raw numbers and wordless visualizations that nevertheless sets the stage by conveying an important piece of information: Seismic events are a part of the general landscape in Japan, but a disaster of this scale may still be too much to prepare for. The initial view of the town is actually a miniature, good enough to scan as real but also forging a vague mental link to disaster movie imagery. And for much of the film's running time, especially in the first half, there is no incidental music, just the clicking of a Geiger counter, even when there are no measurements being made on-screen. It's an image Trimpop will return to for the last shot, as the instrument suddenly coming to life highlights the uncertainty the residents must feel going forward.
(A word of warning: This film is a rough one for animal-lovers. As dangerous as the situation is for human beings, the guys left behind as humans evacuated generally do not fare well. It helps Trimpop to show the long-term effects of radiation sickness on an accelerated basis, as dead cats are found regularly and the horses raised by Miwa's family often seem to have their vigor and power sapped before passing. This is occasionally shown in graphic fashion, so gird yourself for those images.)"Furusato" is not the definitive movie about the mid-term effects of this type of nuclear accident; even making regular returns to Minamisoma, Trimpop was only able to film so much, and it occasionally leaves gaps that are plainly felt. But it's got moments that both underscore the powerful bond between a person and her home and the utter horror of that home turning against them, and in those moments, it has genuine power.
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