The Chicago Japan Film Collective highlights the country’s lesser-known cinematic works.
“This is a wish come true,” says Yuki Sakamoto, cofounder of the Chicago Japan Film Collective (CJFC), the first-ever Japanese film festival held in Chicago. The festival runs from May 25 through May 31 on Eventive, a digital streaming platform.
Among the programmed films, BOLT and Alone Again In Fukushima focus on the 2011 tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster, two world-changing events that marked a tenth anniversary this year. This too was an intentional choice by Sakamoto and Kono. “It’s an ongoing thing—it never became part of history. We were very conscious of pieces that reflected the tragic disaster,” Sakamoto says, with Kono adding, “We need to bring it up and show to the world what’s going on in Japan.”
BOLT, directed by Kaizo Hayashi, is a cinematographic standout with exacting attention to detail, drawing out the excruciating struggle of a cadre of men who work at the Fukushima nuclear plant. Broken into three chapters, BOLT begins its story with an almost menial task—a bolt has come loose in the nuclear facility, leaking radiation-laden water, which the men must go and tighten—which then unfolds in an ever-echoing aftermath.
Alone Again In Fukushima is a documentary solidly rooted in nuclear aftermath, following the story of a man who has stayed behind in a radioactive town to take care of the pets and livestock that were abandoned after the town’s evacuation in 2011. Director Mayu Nakamura employs generous, gentle camerawork, dwelling on almost pastoral scenes, concentrating on balefully mooing cows and cheekily purring cats that skitter across radioactive ground. With themes of perseverance in the face of inordinate difficulty, as well as the stunning incompetence of the state in the face of a natural and man-made disaster, Alone Again is a quietly gorgeous film, brimming with powerful luster.
Taken together, the CJFC film selections offer an overarching realism, creating a prism of diverse stories and perspectives that showcase a collaged and multilayered Japan. This is especially timely, as Japan barrels optimistically toward the Olympic Games despite domestic concern that the games ought not to be the priority while the COVID-19 pandemic rages on. “Yes, Tokyo has the Olympics, and yes we have so much, and we can’t stay in the corona pandemic forever,” says Sakamoto. “The thing is, people’s hope and reality sometimes has a gap.”