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The comic strip journalist who reports on the fallout from Fukushima via The Spinoff

On the eve of his appearance at a Victoria University event in Wellington, comic book author Fumio Obata talks to Guy Somerset about his ongoing project chronicling the aftermath of the Fukushima tsunami and nuclear disaster.

At art school, Fumio Obata was taught the importance of “the theme, having something of your own, something only you can do”. The theme that has preoccupied Obata for the past five years is one he has truly made his own. He has been chronicling, through striking comic book reportage, the devastating consequences of the magnitude 9.1 earthquake that struck off the northeast Pacific coast of Japan in March 2011, causing a tsunami and meltdowns and radioactive contamination at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Published in Italian magazine Internazionale and on his website, Obata’s comic strips capture the long-term effects of Fukushima and explore some of the knotty social, political and environmental issues raised by the disaster and its aftermath. The strips are destined to become his second book, his first being 2014’s internationally successful graphic novel Just So Happens, for which The Observer reviewer Rachel Cooke praised his “crazily accomplished” storytelling and described him as “a talent to watch”.

[…]

A YouTube video on Obata’s website gives a sense of what such reporting can entail. In it, dressed in a white protective suit, he walks through an eerily desolate ghost town that is about two kilometres from Fukushima and part of the designated exclusion zone.

“If you become friends with a resident, they have a pass and you can go there with them,” he says. He and his friend wore protective suits, but clear-up and other workers don’t. “They don’t become ill. They say it is fine. Even in the exclusion zone, it’s not all equally radioactive. Because particles are not going to be evenly dispersed. When you walk around with the Geiger counter, you notice that sometimes the figure is very low, then you go several feet away from that spot and the figure jumps up. Even outside the exclusion zone, if you go to the bits closest to the zone you find the figures are very high.”

Obata’s reporting, which he describes as “a kind of journalism, but I’m more doing my philosophical take on it”, begins with him taking photographs and recording interviews.

[…]

One of the most affecting stories Obata tells is that of Norio Kimura, whose father, wife and seven-year-old youngest daughter Yūna were lost in the tsunami. While the bodies of his father and wife were found in April 2011, Yūna’s remained missing. After the official search for her ended, Kimura continued looking, taking 1000km round trips to do so. After five years and nine months, a piece of bone was discovered that DNA testing proved was one of Yūna’s.

“Yūna was torn apart into small pieces, taken away with contaminated debris, now stored around anonymously,” reads one of the story’s panels. “Had they done the search longer and more carefully from the start, she could have been found a lot earlier, with her body almost intact too.”

The story ends with a panel reading: “A child has been left out alone in the shadow of the reconstruction. And her presence now poses a lot of questions to us.”

[…]

“The father I met is very vocal because he’s angry. He’s just full of anger. He’s trying to change something about the law, for the love of his daughter. It’s very moving. That’s why he basically opened up to me. His story is still developing and he’s still searching for the remains of his daughter.”

Another panel in the same story is of a city skyline at night and reads: “The nuclear plant was built to provide electricity to the capital region. By knowing Fukushima today, Tokyo could look arrogant, with all the excess of lights and luxury.”

It’s a point elegantly distilled – even poetically so.

[…]

“When a tragedy happens, we tend to think there’s a victim and there’s an offender. There’s going to be people who get accused and there are victims who get all the sympathy from the public. But sometimes it’s not like that. Sometimes you can’t make things black and white.

“What’s happening with nuclear is one of these things. If you start reading just a short history of the nuclear industry, or nuclear technology, you see a lot of people believe in the technology and I can’t blame them, because I can’t prove them wrong. They get accused and the people who accuse them have right things to say and I can’t blame them either.

“So basically there are no answers to it and it’s very uncomfortable for the human mind not to have answers. You need a bit of patience and courage to accept that. This is one of the things I am going to say at the end, I think: it’s difficult to accept an open ending but you’ve got to have the courage.”

As for Tokyo: “The consumption of energy really helped to establish today’s Japan’s reputation. And I’m part of it. I can’t really criticise it. I just have to take in the contradiction and try to respond.”

Read more at The comic strip journalist who reports on the fallout from Fukushima

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2 Responses

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  1. yukimiyamotodepaul says

    It is a rather disappointing conclusive remark by the author. Even though we understand the enthusiasm when the nuclear technology was introduced, we can still, and should, criticize their decision as well as the current administration’s energy policy. Most of the people in Japan, undoubtedly, benefitted from Japan’s economic growth supported by energy generated from nuclear power plants. That should not stop them from criticizing their own decisions. Otherwise, no changes will be made. (i. e. the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement… ).

  2. nfield says

    Philosophy lite? And what about his own health?



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