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Unconventional thinking is the way forward for Japan via The Japan Times Online

Fuji TV’s Sunday afternoon documentary series “The Non-Fiction” usually covers individuals over long periods of time. “The Old Man and Radiation,” aired in two parts on Jan. 15 and 22, was about Toshihiko Kawamoto, an 80-year-old former carpenter who moved from Tokyo to the wilds of Fukushima Prefecture about 12 years ago. A video crew started visiting him in the spring of 2010 for the purpose of recording his self-sufficient existence during the course of a year. On the show’s website, the producer says he was initially less interested in Kawamoto than in the passing of the seasons, which is just as well because Kawamoto was reluctant to talk about himself. The documentary would be observational, a view of a life lived in harmony with nature, and the fact that the subject was in his twilight years would add a bittersweet flavor to the production.

And then came March 11. Filming was scheduled to end with the arrival of another spring, but the producer had to contend with the arrival of radiation — Kawamoto’s property was 25 km from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant — which forced him to move to a shelter with the understanding that he could never return to his home in the woods. Thanks to the title, the viewer knows the tragedy will intrude on the story, and so for the first three-quarters of the two-part program we feel anxious, knowing something Kawamoto and the crew don’t. The producer exploits this tension, but having become emotionally invested in Kawamoto’s well-being we accept the drama because we can see what he’s lost and, more importantly, what he hasn’t.

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