Sunday, April 28, 2013

Pressing Issue

Ahead of the World Premier at the Nippon Connection Film Festival (WEBSITE) in Germany in June, there will be a preview screening and press conference for my documentary 'A2' (WEBSITE) on May 13 at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan.

I am extremely honoured to have my worked viewed by members of the press and wonder what kinds of questions they will ask during the press conference.  I am very excited, and truth be told, a little nervous.

Details about the screening can be found on the FCCJ website (HERE).

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Judgement Day

The judgement on the Fukushima Collective Evacuation Trial was handed down today.

The case involved school children in Fukushima who were demanding their right to an education in an environment free from radiation.

My documentary 'A2' was submitted as evidence in the case, and I wrote about that HERE. AP reporter Yuri Kageyama wrote a very informative article about the case as the parties involved were awaiting the ruling (article is HERE).

I attended an emergency press conference this evening held by Yanagihara Toshio, the lawyer for the school children.

In a difficult to understand and seemingly contradictory statement, the court ruled AGAINST the children, even while ADMITTING that the children were being exposed to levels of radiation above the government total annual threshold of 1 millisievert.

In its ruling, the court stated that even if the children stopped attending their contaminated schools, they would theoretically still be living in their contaminated homes in the contaminated city.  The court calculated that even without the radiation the children would be exposed to at school, their total annual radiation exposure would still be above 1 millisievert.  Therefore, since their total annual radiation exposure would be above the 1 millisievert threshold even without the radiation exposure at school, the local government can not be held responsible.

In layman's terms: the kids may be in danger, but the local government and schools can't be held accountable.

Mr. Yanagihara, the childen's lawyer, is not giving up.

**************************** April 25th, 2013 UPDATE ***********************

An article has just been published about the court ruling by AP reporter Yuri Kageyama (HERE).

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Markets and competitions and screenings, oh my!

My documentary 'In the Grey Zone' (89 minutes, Japan, 2012), about the children living in Fukushima one-month after the nuclear meltdown (WEBSITE), was still screening in film festivals when I began filming the follow-up 'A2' (70 minutes, Japan, 2013).  Website HERE and TRAILER below:

'In the Grey Zone' was asking the question "Are these children in danger?", and the follow-up 'A2' begins to try to answer that question.  While I always knew that documenting the story of the children in Fukushima was going to be ongoing, I never would have imagined that I would be getting ready to release a new documentary less than a year after the World Premier of 'In the Grey Zone'.

Between 'In the Grey Zone' and 'A2', I had actually completed a totally unrelated feature documentary called 'minus1287' (WEBSITE and TRAILER HERE) which I planned to release this year; but when I  realized 'A2' was pushing for an "early birth", I decided to put 'minus1287' on hold until next year (I now plan to release that film in spring 2014).

Although we have literally just completed 'A2', the early response (based on several versions of "rough cuts" that I have been sending out to festivals since last December) has been overwhelming.
*  'A2' will be included in the international film market at the Visions du Reel Documentary Film Festival in Nyon, Switzerland later this month (listing HERE).

*  The World Premier will be in competition at the 2013 Nippon Connection Film Festival in Frankfurt, Germany in June (WEBSITE).

*  'A2' has been honoured with an invitation to screen in the non-competitive 2013 Global Peace Film Festival in Orlando, Florida in September (WEBSITE).

*  And just yesterday, 'A2' was granted an early invitation to particiapte in an international competitive film festival in Asia in autumn 2013 (details of this screening are under embargo until the official announcement has been made by the festival).
Thank you all so much for your support and encouragement of my work and your continued concern for the children of Fukushima.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Covering the Coverage of Uncovering the Truth

 A few weeks ago, I wrote about my documentary "A2" being submitted as evidence in a lawsuit that a group of Fukushima children have brought against the local government demanding their right to study in a safe environment.

An article about the case and the impending decision written by the Associated Press's Yuri Kageyama was published yesterday and can be found HERE.

Since my film was used as evidence in the case, Yuri asked for my comments for her article.  Unfortunately, my quotes were eventually cut from the article before it was published, but Yuri graciously both Tweeted and posted my comments on Facebook (below):

"A2", by Ian Thomas Ash, was submitted as evidence in this lawsuit. Some great comments he gave me were edited out and so here goes on Facebook:
_  "If this same disaster happened in the West, with the same level of corporate mismanagement and government cover-up, I think there would be riots in the streets."
_  "The government response has been too little too late. It has been proved time and time again that the government has withheld vital information, and yet they still ask that the people believe what they are saying. How can people who have been effectively lied to be expected to believe those who have lied to them?"
_  "So many government officials are only looking out for their own jobs. Very few officials have had the courage to stand up and say that what is happening is wrong."
_   "No one can really say for certain if the children living in Fukushima are in danger or not." 
_  "I think that by just bringing this lawsuit, the students in Koriyama have already won. Of course it would be great if the judges rule in favour of the students. But even if they don't, the students have been successful in raising awareness and starting a debate about the conditions in which the children in Fukushima are living. Either way, the students have won."
 (Yuri Kageyama can be found on Twitter at:

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The "Snake's Pillows" of Fukushima

Before I left the evacuated village of Iitate for the last time during this trip to Fukushima, Mr. Watanabe, a former resident of Iitate, guided me to a place in the woods where the "mizu-basho" (nicknamed "Snake's Pillow" in English) were starting to flower in the marsh.

"I wish they would colour the radiation so we could see where it is and avoid it," is something I have heard countless times while speaking with people in Fukushima.

The natural beauty of Fukushima, like here in the mountains of Iitate, is deceptive.  The "Snake's Pillows" are gorgeous, but they hide an invisible venom.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Indoor Cats

Mrs. Takano's son, Ayato, was born in January 2011, two months before the nuclear meltdown.  The Takano family is from the evacuated village of Iitate in Fukushima, and are now living in temporary accommodation nearby.

While most mothers keep a baby book, Mrs. Takano has a folder in which she files the results of the government health checks and radiation monitoring for her son.

Months after the nuclear meltdown, families in Fukushima were required to fill out extensive paperwork by recalling where they had traveled to, how many hours they had been outside, and what foods they had consumed in the weeks and months after March 11.  Although it is impossible to know the true figures since no one had personal radiation monitoring devices with them at the time,  the government used this information to estimate what each person's likely level of radiation exposure had been.  

According to the official government calculation, in the four-month period following the nuclear meltdown alone, it was estimated that Ayato, now two-years-old, had been exposed to 5.4 millisieverts of radiation, more than five times the government's pre-disaster limit of 1 millisievert per year.

Ayato's friend Itsuki, who just turned three, came over to play.  The boys ran, threw balls and even rode little 3-wheel bikes inside, things we would never have been allowed to do in the house growing up.

But Mrs. Takano does not allow Ayato to play outside.  She has never allowed him to play outside.  Having been born just before the nuclear accident, Ayato is part of a generation of children in Fukushima that will grow up not ever knowing what it is like to play outside freely.

Only once has Ayato known what it is like to run outdoors, touch dirt and play in the water freely.  It was on a recent visit to the Japanese island of Okinawa.  The trip was organized by a non-profit group that arranges for children from Fukushima to visit far away places for respite.

Ayato showed me a picture from his trip.

Mrs. Takano said that when Ayato came back from Okinawa, she had a difficult time making him understand that he couldn't go outside to play in the dirt and in the water as he had done in Okinawa.

When I left, the boys walked me to the front door.  As I turned around to say goodbye, Itsuki, Ayato's friend, was slyly dipping his foot into his shoe.  He looked like he was planning an escape, about to make a run for the big outdoors, just like an indoor cat.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Round the Mulberry Bush

Last year,  Mrs. Mutoh and her husband hired private contractors to decontaminate the house where they live with their two children, son, Shougo, and daughter, Rimi.  The levels of radiation did initially decrease, but little by little, they started to increase, particularly on the second floor where the children sleep. 

She feels she has cause for concern: both of Mrs. Mutoh's children have been found to have thyroid cysts (that story HERE).

Mrs. Mutoh contacted a local non-profit that offers independent radiation monitoring, and they sent Mr. Fukada.  He started by measuring the radiation levels in the Mutoh's foyer and explained that this is often an area that becomes recontaminated because radiation is carried into the home from the outside on shoes and jackets.

Mr. Fukada then measured the radiation levels in the children's bedroom on the second floor and the study room where the children do their homework after school.  He took measurements both near the floor and close to the ceiling as well as facing towards the centre of the room and then near the windows.


As Rimi, played a video game, Mr. Fukada measured the family's living room.  He pointed at the greenery just outside the window and asked Mrs. Mutoh if it was on her property or her neighbor's.  When she replied that it was her neighbor's, he nodded his head and showed her the measurements.  "Radiation," he said, "can travel 80 meters."

Outside Mrs. Mutoh's house, Mr. Fukada explained that decontamination will not be effective if the surrounding properties are not also decontaminated.  As long as neighbors don't decontaminate their property, including cutting down most trees and shrubs, land that has been "decontaminated" will keep getting recontaminated.

Mr. Fukada pointed the monitor in the direction of the neighbour's yard to prove his point.

Back in the living room, Shougo and Rimi played while Mr. Fukada explained to Mrs. Mutoh his findings.  The radiation levels in the children's bedroom are indeed twice as high as on the first floor, although still within what is considered "safe" by the local government.  Although people in Fukushima have come to view these levels as a kind of "new normal", he said that if this amount of radiation was found in a public park in Tokyo, there would be a public outcry and a demand for immediate decontamination.

"On March 11, 2011, we were all given a lottery ticket," Mr. Fukada said.  "Nobody knows how many winning tickets or what the chances of winning are.  But the winners of this lottery get a terrible, terrible prize.  You, your two children, all of us: we were all given a lottery ticket on March 11, whether we wanted one or not."

Down the Rabbit Hole

Two years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Takahashi were evacuated from Iitate, Fukushima, along with the other 6,000 residents of the village.  Located outside of the 20 kilometer evacuation zone around the nuclear power plant, Iitate was contaminated with a radioactive plume that had traveled much further than the government had initially admitted.  The villagers of Iitate waited for nearly two months until they were finally evacuated in May 2011.

In June 2012, more than a year after the meltdown, the government admitted that the contamination in the district of Nagatoro in Iitate, where the Takahashi's farm was located, was so high that it actually required putting up a barricade to prevent entry into the area.

On Sunday, I accompanied Mr. and Mrs. Takahashi into the no-entry zone of Nagatoro (HERE).  Later that day, the Takahashi's showed me the temporary housing facility where they now live.  Having spent their entire lives in a big farm house in the countryside with their extended family, Mr. Takahashi said that he feels like the evacuees have now been forced to live in rabbit hutches.

Mr. Takahashi, who lives in the 3rd unit on the right with his wife, refers to the housing units as "rabbit hutches".

Mr. Takahashi stands in the area where two rows of housing units back up to each other.

Until the nuclear meltdown, Mr. and Mrs. Takahashi lived with their children and grandchildren on their farm in Iitate.  Like so many other evacuees, their family has now been split up; Mr. and Mrs. Takahashi live in temporary housing near Iitate, while their children and grandchildren have evacuated further away.

A picture of the home and farm buildings the Takahashi's shared with their children hangs in their temporary housing unit.

Mr. and Mrs. Takahashi in the temporary housing unit that Mr. Takahashi refers to as a "rabbit hutch".

One of the great joys in life for Mr. Takahashi had been growing the fresh food that his family ate.  Their rice, vegetables, and even beef, was either fresh from their farm or had been preserved by Mrs. Takahashi to be enjoyed throughout the year. 

The Takahashi's land has now been reduced to the space between the two yellow support cables at the back of their temporary housing unit.  Mr. Takahashi told me that he couldn't stand looking out the window and seeing the bare gravel, so he started to grow bonsai and other potted plants.  "Anyway", he said, "there isn't anything else to do."

The Takahashi's "backyard" consists of the space between two yellow support cables

As our time together was drawing to a close, Mr. Takahashi looked at the time.  "My throat gets awfully dry every afternoon around three," he said, as he reached under his desk and pulled out a large carton of shochu, a distilled drink.  "But don't worry, " he added, "I never drink too much."  Mrs. Takahashi just silently shook her head as she stood up and left the room.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Home is Where the Danger Is

Located in the beautiful mountains of Fukushima, the entire Village of Iitate was evacuated after the nuclear meltdown two years ago.  Officially, none of the more than 6,000 former residents of Iitate remain, and although they are allowed to return for short periods during the day, spending the night in the village is banned; that is, except for the 75 elderly residents of "Iitate Home", a nursing care facility located in the evacuated village.

Mr. Sanpei Masami, the director of Iitate Home, guided me around the vast facility and told me about the terrible decision that had to made two years ago as it became clear exactly how far the radioactive contamination had spread.  The problem he was faced with was that although there was inherent danger in remaining in the village, there was also a risk in moving the elderly residents, and there had already been cases of elderly people dying just from the stress of evacuation itself.

Eventually, although the entire Village of Iitate was evacuated, the decision was made to allow Iitate Home to remain open.  However, this then presented a new problem:  the staff members who care for the residents would have to commute from the relative safety of their temporary housing into a highly contaminated area.

Iitate Home had been established to provide its residents, most of whom had lived their entire lives in large, airy houses in the countryside, a place that felt more mountain cabin retreat than hospital.  However, one of the agreements the administrators made with the national government when they were negotiating remaining opened, was that the windows would stay closed and the elderly residents would not be allowed outside.  

So the staff decided to bring the green inside.

Amid the peace and tranquility of Iitate Home, a short-term visitor to the evacauted Village of Iitate almost forgets about the danger that lies just on the other side of the glass windows.  But for the 71 staff members who work at Iitate Home, it is a danger they must face everyday.

Saying Goodbye, Starting Anew

Today, as the cherry trees begin to blossom in Fukushima, the start of a new school year began.

Kae stood in front of her new school and showed me the new pink backpack that she is so proud of.  This school is new to Kae because she will be entering the first grade.  But it is also new to her because she and her family have evacuated from their home that was contaminated with radiation.  Evacuation has brought relative safety to Kae and her two brothers, but it has also meant leaving their familiar school and friends. 

Before the School Entrance Ceremony in the gymnasium began, Kae's mother pinned her name on her daughter's new uniform.  Her brother, Koutaro, signed the school-transfer paperwork as their little brother, Shinjirou, looked on.

At the front of the auditorium, Kae sat on a little chair where packets of textbooks had been neatly laid out for the new students.  As her parents and brother looked on, I wondered who was more nervous: Kae or her mom and dad.

All of her new classmates and teachers were gathered, and the ceremony was about to begin!  Kae turned around just one more time to check where her family was sitting.

The children listened intently to speeches about obedience and the importance of study.  Then the older children at the school made a short presentation about making new friends that ended with them holding up cards that spelled out "Congratulations for Entering School".

After the ceremony, Kae returned to say thank and farewell to the teachers at the nursery school she had attended until last month.  After saying goodbye, Kae put on her new backpack and left the nursery school for the last time.


(In October of 2012, I documented the decontamination of the home that Kae had lived in with her two brothers HERE, HERE and HERE, and then again in November of that year HERE and HERE.)

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Leaving Tora behind

After the nuclear meltdown, the families of Iitate Village in Fukushima, were evacuated... but not until two months after the entire area was contaminated.  

(The documentary I filmed about Iitate as all the villagers were being evacuated two years ago is here:) 

The levels of radiation in the district of Nagatoro in Iitate Village are so high that barricades have now been set up along all roads leading into the area.  Access is restricted and special permission is required for non-residents to enter.  To limit negative affects on visitor's health, time in Nagatoro is limited to two hours.  I entered Nagatoro today.

Mr. and Mrs. Takahashi were evacuated from Nagatoro nearly two years ago, but they return every week to check on their home.

Mr.  Takahashi showed me the land where he used to grow food for his family and where his grandchildren used to play.  Until the meltdown, the Takahashi's lived here together with their children and grandchildren.  Like so many others, their family has been split up: Mr. and Mrs. Takahashi are in tiny temporary housing nearby, and their children and grandchildren have been evacuated further away.

Although it will probably be years before anyone can return to live and perhaps decades before food can be safely grown here, Mr. Takahashi runs the engines on his farm equipment to keep it in working condition.  Mrs. Takahashi feeds their cat, Tora.  The Takahashi's had to leave Tora behind because pets are not allowed in their temporary housing facility.

The two-hour time limit up, the Takahashi's locked up their home and reluctantly said goodbye to Tora.

The Takahashi's, who have lived their entire lives in this big house in the beautiful countryside, return to their cramped temporary house, but Tora must stay behind at their contaminated home in this exclusion zone.