Thursday, May 14, 2015

Radiation, secrets and lives

It has been a busy week.  On Monday, I returned from screening '-1287' in Taiwan (STORY).  Tuesday I had the press conference about the cancellation of screenings of 'A2-B-C' (STORY).  Yesterday, I received confirmation that a piece I had been working on for the Japan Times was going to be published in the online edition last night and in the print edition this morning, so there was lots of final checking of the story and polishing up of the accompanying video.

The assignment was to conduct a taidan, or conversation, with documentary filmmaker Kamanaka Hitomi.  The edited transcript was printed in the newspaper, and I edited a longer video which was published on my channel in conjunction with the article.

I first saw it online late last night, but when I saw it print for the first time this morning, I was surprised to realize that it was a full page!

I am extremely grateful for this opportunity and the challenge to try something new.  I am especially thankful for the support of my colleague Dreux Richard (who recommended me for this job and who edited the transcript),  Ben Stubbins (my editor at the Japan Times), Daisuke Sanada & Sophia Swanson (for the subtitles), and Adrian Uchujin Storey (for the sound mix).

The full article can be read online HERE and the video is below:

And the week is not over yet.  Today I started cutting a brand new documentary.  More on that soon...

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Violent far-left extremists in Fukushima? 中核派と福島

The Japanese translation of this blog, along with the full video (below) of the press conference with Japanese subtitles were added on August 4, 2015.  My gratitude to Sawaguchi Kayo for filming the press conference and to Lita Box for the translations.

撮影:澤口佳代 翻訳:リタ・ボックス 

Today, the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan (FCCJ) hosted a screening of my film 'A2-B-C', which documents the health of children living in contaminated areas of Fukushima after the nuclear meltdown on March 11, 2011. The screening was followed by a press conference focused on the cancellations of the screenings of the film in Japan (INFO).


Before the press conference began, I struggled with how I was going to explain something which I am still finding difficult to understand. I also see the issue of the cancellations of 'A2-B-C' as a symptom of a much larger problem affecting press freedom in Japan, and I was hoping that the screening and press conference could also be an opportunity to speak about this much larger issue.


At this afternoon's press conference I was relieved to be able to announce that during a meeting this morning the Japan domestic screening rights to 'A2-B-C' were returned to me. I will now work toward re-establishing a process for organizing private screenings of the film. A DVD/ internet release of the film is not currently planned for the reasons outlined HERE.

I would like to express my gratitude to the A2-B-C Screening Committee for their hard work to establish distribution of 'A2-B-C' in Japan. Through their effort, a theatrical release of the film, as well as dozens of private screenings, was made possible. While I find it unfortunate that it was decided that they could no longer be involved with the distribution of the film, I wish them the very best as we all move forward.

A2-B-C 上映委員会の皆さんには、これまでA2-B-Cの国内配給のため懸命に活動してくださいました。深く感謝を述べたいと思います。劇場公開や数々の自主上映が実現したのも、委員会の皆さんの努力のおかげです。この委員会でA2-B-Cの配給に関わることができないと決定されたのは残念なことですが、これからも委員会の皆さんのご活躍を祈ります。
Today's press conference
The attendees at today's press conference were there not only to see 'A2-B-C' but also to hear why the screenings of 'A2-B-C' had been cancelled.
今回の会見の参加者は、A2-B-C の鑑賞だけでなく、なぜA2-B-C の上映がキャンセルされたか、という私の説明を聞くために参加して下さいました。

The A2-B-C Screening Committee cancelled all domestic screenings of the film after learning that one of the mothers in 'A2-B-C' was rumoured to be a member of Chukaku-ha, a communist political group whose tactics in the past have included violent confrontations with the authorities. The medical clinic that appears in the film, where children are seen receiving thyroid examinations, was also said to be tied to this group.

It should be noted that in Japan the two main accusations that are hurled at someone to discredit them are that they are either ethnically Korean or communist; accusing someone who is speaking out of being Korean or a communist is a rhetoric often employed in Japan when no other logical argument can be found.

Leading up to the cancellations of 'A2-B-C', I had received an e-mail alerting me to an article that had been published in the Fukushima Minyu accusing a medical clinic in Fukushima (the one in my film) of having ties to Chukaku-ha.

It was also brought to my attention that Chukaku-ha was using a political group called Nazen to organize private screenings of 'A2-B-C' in an apparent effort to raise money for their activities. Although the A2-B-C Screening Committee had been aware of these screenings, they were unaware of Nazen's ties to Chukaku-ha:


I felt that whether or not a member of Chukaku-ha appears in 'A2-B-C' should be openly discussed, as should why this group may have established in Fukushima a medical clinic offering independent testing of children for radiation-related health issues. I also wanted to know if it was true that this group was attempting to use my film for political gain and felt this was something that should be investigated further and warranted a statement addressing the issue.

Wanting to distance myself from any political group that may try to use my film for gain while also making it clear that at no point during the making of 'A2-B-C' did I receive support from any political organization, I wrote a disclaimer that was posted to the film's website (HERE):

Unfortunately, this was not enough to dissuade the A2-B-C Screening Committee from cancelling all screenings of the film in Japan. Shortly after taking this action in March, the committee dissolved.

What is Chukaku-ha? 中核派とは?

Having not even heard of this group before, I asked several people what Chukaku-ha is. Almost no one I spoke to could tell me anything of any substance about Chukaku-ha, and most people only said vague things like "I heard they are scary" or "I heard they did something bad in the past".


During my attempt to understand what Chukaku-Ha is, I was told that it had been designated as a terrorist organization by the US State Department and was sent THIS link which briefly describes the group's establishment in 1957 but with no activities listed beyond 1993. I was also sent a link to THIS Wikipedia article, which lists no activities beyond 1991. Despite not being able to find any information about current Chukaku-ha activities, a link to a recent Japanese government document listing domestic terrorist groups included Chukaku-ha.


p.62 中核派は,新運動体を結成し,大衆運動強化と各層の取り込みを企図

A list of groups "under watch" appeared in the same document. These groups are:
  • groups suing to stop the Futenma base construction
  • groups who are anti-nuclear
  • groups concerned with the Comfort Women issue
  • any group considered to be against the Abe administration
Suddenly, any group identified as anti-nuclear was now a target for government surveillance.  In light of this, the decision of the A2-B-C Screening Committee to engage in what I see as an act of self-censorship began to make sense.
  • 普天間基地代替施設建設の中止を訴える運動を展開
  • 慰安婦問題をめぐり政府の対応を追求
  • 「再稼働阻止」を掲げて反原発運動を継続
  • 政府が進める重要政治課題を捉え政権批判を展開

Today's press conference
During the Q&A following the press conference, I was asked if I had confirmed whether the mother in my film was, in fact, a member of Chukaku-ha. I had. At the urging of one of my colleagues, I contacted the mother in question shortly after the cancellations and asked her to meet. Before I could ask her about the rumours, she asked me why the screenings of 'A2-B-C' were cancelled.

会見の質疑応答のなかで、 A2-B-Cの中に出てくる母親が実際に中核派のメンバーかどうかを確認したのか、という質問を受けました。私はその時点で実際に確認していましたのでその内容を回答しました。上映のキャンセルが決まった後、私はある親しい人に勧められて実際にその母親に会いに行ってきました。彼女と話しはじめたとき、私のほうから一連の噂のことを尋ねる前に、彼女に、上映がキャンセルされたのは何故なのか、と訊かれました。
I asked her why she thought they had been cancelled, but she replied that she wanted to her it from me. "Because," I told her, "people are saying you are a member of Chukaku-ha."

"Oh, that's what I thought," she said. I asked her if it was true, if she really was a member of Chukaku-ha. "Yes," she admitted. "I am."

Another person during the Q&A asked why the political leanings of one of the mothers in the film even mattered. After all, he suggested, it would be impossible to make a non-political film even if it was about Mickey Mouse.

I could not agree more. Anyone who can look at a scene of a child receiving a thyroid examination following a nuclear meltdown and still attempt to turn the focus onto the political views of that child’s mother is completely missing the point of the film.

The full video from today's press conference will be available tomorrow on the FCCJ channel (HERE).

Full video of press conference added May 13, 2015:

Monday, May 11, 2015

What money can't buy

Another post from the airport after another amazing time in Taiwan.  I am so grateful for this opportunity to visit Taiwan and to share my work.  My films may not make me lot of money, but they make me extremely grateful, honoured and provide me with a sense of purpose.  And those are things on which it is impossible to put a price.

I am now on the way back home to Japan, back to my real life, and the real issues I am facing.

Thank you all so very much for your continued support and encouragement.

Much Peace,

PS  A few highlights of my last day in Hualien:

Top right: "Caution: Culture".  Bottom Right: "Creativity Ahead".
My first time on a moped!

Black tapioca pearls as big as eyeballs, served with shaved ice and sweet tofu.  Delicious!
I can not get enough Stinky Tofu.  LOVE it!!!
Drinks together with the TIDF staff after the last screening.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Food Porn

Taiwan = Wonderful People + Amazing Food

And no trip to Taiwan would be complete without a visit to a Night Market, home to some of the most delicious (and cheap!) food one can find here.  While each city's night market has a unique local spin on traditional foods made with homegrown delicacies, what they share in common is a family-friendly carnival atmosphere where visitors can eat themselves into a blissful frenzy without breaking the bank.

Last night's highlights: "Stinky Tofu" (which smells like, well, not something edible, but tastes awesome!), a burrito-looking wrap filled with vegetables and sweet peanut powder, grilled corn on the cob, and some of the most delicious seasonal fruit Taiwan has to offer.

I am extremely grateful for this much-needed opportunity to rest, re-fuel and re-charge after the past two months.  Life is precious.  And all to short.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Love me truly

Walking around today we saw banners for the tour of Taiwan International Documentary Festival's (TIDF) all over the city of Hualien.  With time for a quick snack before today's screening of '-1287' (INFO), we stopped for an "8 Treasures" dessert, eight kinds of sweetened beans atop of a giant mound of shaved ice.  Yum!

Today's screening took place in the Showtime Cinema, where TIDF took over part of one floor of this giant cinema complex.  When we arrived, I was extremely honoured to find that it was a full house, with many young people and students in the audience!
Many important questions were raised during the hour-long post-screening discussion.  I always cherish these opportunities to receive questions from audiences who have engaged with one of my films, as often it is not until I am asked to explain something in words that I truly come to understand what has only until then been a collection of thoughts in my head.  At the same time, however, I must also admit that the sometimes very personal nature of the discussions, especially those after '-1287' can sometimes be quite difficult as they often tend to be focused more on theoretical, existential themes, like life, death and, often, love.
A question near the end of the discussion from a young student in the audience caused me to think about something in the film in a way in which I had never thought of before.  She asked if anything about how I thought about love had changed through the making of '-1287'.  After pausing for a moment, I said that I felt Kazuko, through providing us with an opportunity to think about our own deaths, inspires us to think about the way in which live.  Money and things are not important, she reminds us.  What is?  Health, family, happiness and love.

As I was speaking, I remembered something Kazuko had revealed in the film.  "If only I had been truly loved," she had said, "I could have lived more honestly."  As I repeated her words out loud, I suddenly realized something that ran shivers over my entire body.  For all of us, the opposite of what Kazuko said is also true: If only I had lived more honestly, I could have been truly loved.

The truth and honesty with which Kazuko shares her story with us before she dies is what allows us to love her.  And this is all that she had ever longed for in life.  

But how many of us live our lives this honestly, allowing those who try to do so to love us for who we really are?

Friday, May 08, 2015


With a day off between screenings of '-1287' during the Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival (TIDF) touring festival (INFO), there was time today to take in the beauty of Hualien.  First stop on our tour was Pine Garden, site of a military camp established by the Japanese military during the occupation of Taiwan.

Next we visited the beautiful arc-shaped Hsincheng Catholic Church with its fascinating Buddhist influences such as a temple gate and lion statues standing guard.

In the afternoon, we visited the peaceful grounds of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation.

 And our tour ended with a visit to the rocky beach and a nearby lighthouse...

Thursday, May 07, 2015


A three-hour train ride from Taiwan's capital, this is my first time in the gorgeous ocean-side city of Hualien, where tonight's screening of my film '-1287' kicked off the Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival (TIDF) tour here (INFO). 

Held at Timelight 1939, a former Japanese residence from the period of occupation, the screening was followed by a talk entitled "When Camera Comes in Between: An Intimate Vision" which focused on the ethical and moral boundaries of documentary filmmaking.  Taiwanese documentary director Mr. Shen Ko-shang joined the discussion which was moderated by TIDF Programmer Ms. Fan Wu.

As the talk immediately followed the screening of '-1287', the conversation included questions from the audience specifically relating to the film.  The last question of the evening: "How does one keep a 'safe distance' from one's subject when filming?"

I explained that making a film is no different than any other relationship one has in life.  There is no "safe distance" that can be kept if one ever wishes to have a meaningful relationship.  We must open ourselves up to the possibility of being hurt while trusting that the person we care for will not hurt us.  At a "safe distance" one could never truly know love. 

with the audience at Timelight 1939
with TIDF Festival director Mr. Wood Lin
with TIDF tour staff
There was a wonderful surprise waiting when I arrived at the screening: TIDF had commissioned Mr. Yan Jhen-fa, the last practicing painter of movie posters in Taiwan, to create a portrait of Kazuko.  More about Mr. Yan Jhen-fa and the lost art of painting movie posters can be found in THIS AP News article.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Cinco de Mayo is for kids

With a trip to Fukushima for filming on a new documentary and with filming/ editing on another new documentary here in Tokyo (more on that soon!), it has been a busy couple of weeks since returning from the US for screenings of 'A2-B-C' in Nebraska (INFO) and '-1287' in the Oregon (INFO).

After a wonderful dinner last night that was followed by traditional sweets for Children's Day, May 5, (PHOTO below, info about the sweets called "Chimaki" HERE), I am now at the airport. Again!

Over the past two years, I have had the honour of being invited to Taiwan several times to screen two of my films, 'A2-B-C' (2013) and '-1287' (2014).   I was last in Taiwan in the autumn for the Asian Premier of '-1287' (INFO) which was held in the Taiwan International Documentary Festival (TIDF). While the main festival is held in Taipei, TIDF also holds a touring festival throughout the year which travels to cities all over Taiwan.  I am honoured that '-1287' (WEBSITE) has been selected to screen in the touring festival and am grateful for the additional honour of being invited to attend some of the screenings, which will also provide an opportunity to visit more places outside of the capital.

The full list of screenings of '-1287', which run through August, can be found on the TIDF website HERE.

I will be hitting the ground running when I get home, with a press conference about the cancellation of screenings of 'A2-B-C' being held the day after I return (INFO), followed by three solid weeks of intensive editing on the new documentary.