THE TSUNAMI AND THE CHERRY BLOSSOM – The Review
Three short years ago, a devastating earthquake shook Japan and a massive tsunami followed, wiping out all signs of civilization in its path. Lives were lost and property was destroyed. As with any natural disaster, the damage is immense and recovery is a long, slow and emotional process. THE TSUNAMI AND THE CHERRY BLOSSOM, directed by the talented young non-fiction filmmaker Lucy Walker, chronicles the efforts by survivors of the tsunami to rebuild what was taken from them as it coincides with the beginning of the cherry blossom season.
The opening four minutes of THE TSUNAMI AND THE THE CHERRY BLOSSOM consists of one, continuous shot of the massive wave bulldozing over the land, moving in closer and closer to onlookers as they watch from atop a nearby high hill. This footage, presumably taken on someone’s camera phone, offers an unflinching depiction of the destruction, as well as an audio insight to the emotion and heartbreak of those most closely associated with the disaster and the pain it has produced. It’s a long, arduous four minutes to endure.
From here, Walker cuts to some beautiful close shots of cherry blossoms radiating in the sunlight, inter-cut with someone painting in watercolor. An extreme juxtaposition, to be sure, and a stunning metaphor for the subject of the film. Walker collaborated with Richard Melville Hall, better known as Moby, who wrote and performed the moving score for the film, which further enhances the film’s dichotomy of beauty and destruction. This becomes apparent as the film transitions from stories of death and loss into recovery efforts occurring at the start of cherry blossom season. In Japan, the cherry blossom (“sakura”) symbolizes the harbinger of spring. Rebirth ad renewal.
THE TSUNAMI AND THE CHERRY BLOSSOM manages to capture a great deal within its limited 39-minute running time. As if the fickle force of nature had not created enough misery on its own, perhaps best depicted by one survivor’s account of some 70% of a nearby school’s students bodies found washed up miles away, the worst hit areas are also dangerously near the Fukashima nuclear power plant that was severely damaged by the earthquake, which caused the tsunami, which in turn led to radiated water leaking from the power plant. Not only must survivors struggle to rebuild and cope with loss, they must also deal with a locally annihilated economy and the potential for health issues caused by leaking radiation.
Walker brilliantly illustrates the wonderful hope and wisdom of the survivors, most vividly through their connection with a massive, sprawling cherry tree said to be over a thousand years old. We’re given a fascinating glimpse into the Japanese philosophy of life, spirit and our connection with nature. Perhaps it’s not the natural world that is changing, so much as our relationship with it and our ability to adapt and cope with its ever-changing moods. I found myself in awe of so many survivors interviewed for this film. Their strength and willingness to embrace these harsh realities with an openness to making the best of the worst is just mind-boggling.
The film, despite the spectacle of bigger than life events and the beauty of nature at its finest, never loses focus on its heart. The Japanese people and the amazing culture that so often seems so foreign to western life. The most heartbreaking moment in the film is a scene depicting so many lives lost, shots of closely spaced graves, each marked only with a plain wooden stake a sign and a number. The numbers grow into the hundreds as the camera pans and the film cuts from shot to shot, then into the thousands. Even with this, the survivors persist in conveying their sense of vitality and resilience in life. A truly beautiful story of humanity told masterfully by Lucy Walker in a beautifully shot and compassionate work of cinema.
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
The 39-minute documentary short released through iTunes on March 11th, 2014, the 3-year anniversary of the tragic natural disaster.