Hard hitting Japanese film puts atomic energy on the dock

In a year that has seen a resurgence in the success of domestic Japanese cinema—almost 70 percent of 2012’s box office receipts went to homegrown product—a small, dissident documentary has captured three prestigious awards.

Japan Lies: The Photojournalism of Kikujiro Fukushima, Age 90 has only been seen by an estimated 30,000 people since its release in August, according to the Asahi Shimbun, but it was voted top doc in Kinema Jumpo's annual best 10 list, walked off with the Mainichi Film Award, and also took the Japan Film Pen Club Award (chosen by critics and film industry professionals).

What’s interesting about this is the subject matter; Kikujiro Fukushima is famed for his photographs of Hiroshima’s A-bomb survivors, while an anti-authoritarian streak informed his work through the student revolts of the ‘60s and up to the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011—the severity of which many believe has been covered up by the government. 

In an interview with Japan Times, director Saburo Hasegawa said: “For Fukushima, nuclear explosion and nuclear power are synonyms. The victims of both were harmed by radiation human beings couldn’t control. The state has a fundamental obligation to support those victims, but instead they were left to fend for themselves.”

Continues the filmmaker: “He told me that when he saw conditions in Fukushima, he had the feeling that the same thing (that happened in Hiroshima) would happen again. That’s the kind of connection that only he could make. For people of my generation, the (meltdown) was our first encounter with nuclear disaster.”

There’s no North American release on the horizon for Japan Lies, but a new U.S. made version of Godzilla is slated for production in March in Vancouver while just last week, Massachusetts congressman Ed Markey held a news brief explaining that he was opposing a Department of Energy proposal to allow 14,000 metric tons of radioactive scrap metal to be used in consumer products.

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