Half-Life In Fukushima (2018)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
Unique, sparse, and almost lyrical in creation, Half-Life in Fukushima tells an intriguing story of a man living life on his own terms, regardless of any risks involved. There’s something to admire about this.
This is definitely a film for cinephiles and art house enthusiasts. The sparse nature of the film, coupled with its long stretches of no dialogue and scant running time, will make people wonder whether this would be better served as a documentary short.
When the Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown occurred in coastal Japan on March 11, 2011, following a devastating 9.0 earthquake and preceding a catastrophic tsunami which arrived some 45 minutes later, nearly 16,000 people lost their lives between the two natural disasters.
Following the earthquake, three reactors failed at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and initial protocols succeeded in regenerating them. However, then the tsunami arrived and caused massive damage to the plant in a series of subsequent equipment and technological failures over a period of several days.
And through it all, Naoto Matsumara never left. Maybe he did for a time, but he returned to Fukushima, when tens of thousands of residents evacuated. Half-Life in Fukushima shares his story.
Unassuming about the incident, the very real risks of radiation exposure, and living largely in isolation, Naoto simply goes about his life, as documented in Mark Olexa and Francesca Scalisi’s 61-minute film.
There’s an admirable nature to Naoto’s resolve. He knows no other place, and simply lives his life. He feeds his cows, has a precocious ostrich he deals with occasionally, and, in a scene that would make some of my friends smile, and others roll their eyes, we see him pull up to a red traffic light.
And wait for 55 seconds before it turns green.
This might be my favorite moment in the film, in all honesty. Shot in real time, watching Naoto sit at an empty intersection, with nary a car to be found anywhere, for nearly a minute is a brilliant testament to loneliness and serenity, absurdity and loyalty.
In terms of context, there is not a lot of content here. We get a couple guiding definitions on screen and Naoto probably utters less than 150 words in the entire film. And yet, Olexa and Scalisi’s cameras give us the opportunity to observe a man in a fascinating and disquieting place. We can almost see a bustling community, but there’s truly next to no one around.
We hear pre-recorded warning announcements on how to sort and bag garbage. We feel the potential toxicity all around him. And yet, through it all, Naoto shrugs, at one point commenting that the radiation risk and potential exposure he may experience over time doesn’t really bother him.
Half-Life in Fukushima works as a title in three distinctive ways: 1) it references the time it takes for a nuclear isotope to reduce its radioactivity. 2) With almost no one around to interact with, beyond his father, Naoto’s life is essentially half a life, when it comes to the experiences other people share in life. And 3), what does all of this mean for Naoto’s own life expectancy?
Whether spending time with his father, working on his long game at a vacant driving range, or belting out a song in a nearby karaoke bar, Naoto is accepting of the world he has surrounded himself in. And sometimes, exercising one’s own free will is hard to argue against, even if we see the risks inherent in doing so.
CAST & CREW
Documentary Featuring: Naoto Matsumara
Director: Mark Olexa, Francesca Scalisi
Release Date: May 4, 2018 (locally in Seattle, Washington)