On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake occurred off the eastern coast of Japan. The resulting tsunami destroyed emergency generators cooling some of the nuclear power reactors at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant. This caused three nuclear meltdowns, a large release of radioactive material, and multiple hydrogen-air chemical explosions. While these events only lasted a few days, the damage done physically and socially to the country of Japan is still evident. In Tell the Prime Minister, director Eiji Oguma, a professor at Keio University in Tokyo, works to portray the social movements and change throughout Japan after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Oguma spoke Thursday night in Higgins to introduce the movie and answer questions.
Tell The Prime Minister is especially remarkable because it is not shot like other movies. Oguma interviewed eight citizens of Japan, from ex-prime minister Naoko Kan to an anarchist-turned-artist wearing a Guy Fawkes sweater, to an older woman who was forced to evacuate her home in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. The documentary intersperses clips from these interviews with footage shot by ordinary Japanese citizens that Oguma obtained from the internet. The fact that Oguma manages to convey a complete narrative without using typical directorial style only speaks to his skill as a director and editor and to the captivating and complex story being presented.
The main focus of the documentary is the rising tide of anti-nuclear sentiment following the disaster. The audience meets the eight interviewees over the course of the first act as Oguma shows us how they felt at the time of the disaster and their thoughts on the actions taken by the government during and after the crisis. Particularly striking are the similarities of opinion and stark contrasts of views between these diverse members of society. One interviewee, a young woman who later joined and became an active figure in the protests against the government’s reaction to the disaster, says that she could never forgive the then-prime minister for the government’s apparent inaction. In Kan’s interview, it is obvious that he was put in a very difficult position. He says he was lied to by top scientists and received no help from representatives at TEPCO, which owned the failed reactors. After resigning as prime minister in September 2011, he has become a vocal spokesperson against nuclear energy and is now promoting more proactive government regulation in the country’s energy field and on an international platform.
The documentary then moves to cover the initial surge of protests that occurred in Japan. Many people felt that the government was way too slow to release information regarding the exposure zone. Before the disaster, the acceptable amount of radiation dosage for an area was one millisievert per year. After the crisis occurred, the government raised the acceptable dosage to 100 millisieverts per year. The general sentiment was that the authorities did not care about people’s health. The documentary shows continuously building protest events as the government refuses to act. The number of protesters climbs into the hundreds of thousands, and the footage Oguma presents of such protests is incredible.
While Tell The Prime Minister certainly has a strong bias against nuclear energy, it is very difficult to fault the film for this stance, considering the sobering events it depicts. Opponents of nuclear energy will definitely find validation in the film, and it is strongly recommended for them. In addition, people who do not know much or who would like to learn more about the devastating Fukushima nuclear disaster should watch this movie. At one hour and 50 minutes, the movie packs a heap of information into its runtime. While the experience was definitely enhanced by Oguma’s presence, a good, but somber time can be had in any setting while watching this movie.
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