Thursday, November 03, 2011

DOC NYC ’11: Views on Japan (shorts)

It was only a matter of months after Katrina hit that a bumper crop of outraged documentaries began jostling for art-house attention. Strangely, almost eight months after the devastating Tōhoku earthquake and Tsunami rocked Japan the documentary film industry still maintains nearly complete radio silence. However, filmmaker Lucy Walker recognized the magnitude of the tragic events in Japan, capturing the immediate aftermath and early rebuilding efforts in The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom (trailer here), which screens as part of the Views on Japan short film program at DOC NYC 2011.

Blossom opens with first-hand video footage that will make viewers forever foreswear Roland Emmerich disaster movies. From the relative safety of higher ground, residents watch as the tsunami slowly obliterates their town and all their neighbors left behind. Their audible anguish is truly haunting.

There are many stories from those who lost loved ones. Clearly, the pain remains understandably raw and immediate for them. Yet, there is no finger-pointing or ranting in Blossom. The Japanese people are contradictorily both too practical and too philosophical for such indulgences. Instead they seek to remember and rebuild. Whether it is the beautiful young photographer recording the rebirth of the town destroyed in the initial scene, from that very same vantage point, or the relief worker who always stops to salvage family photos and tombstones, their efforts are profoundly moving.

For many survivors, the coming of the annual cherry blossom season signifies the process of rebirth, reminding them that life goes on. Observing the natural beauty of the sakura is an important tradition in Japan. Davina Pardo’s Minka (trailer here) also celebrates the distinctive grace of the Japanese culture and landscape. Minka refers to the Japanese farmhouses, whose rustic elegance is indeed peculiarly Japanese.

If you imagine the greatest Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie style home ever, you will have a sense of the vintage Minka American A.P. correspondent John Roderick and his future adopted son Yoshihiro Takishita rescued from demolition, literally rebuilding it piece by piece once they found a suitable site. It became the first real home for both men, eventually inspiring Takishita to make a career out of rebuilding similar farm houses.

Lovingly photographed by Pardo, their Minka looks intimately comfortable, yet its high ceilings and flowing space are quite striking. In fact, it is also a highly personal space, maintaining a connection between Takishita and the late Roderick.

Both films are highly personal tributes to the spirit and culture of our close Japanese friends and allies. They are also both potential award winners. Blossom is by far the best film on the otherwise uninspiring Oscar shortlist for best documentary short subject, while Minka is an official nominee for best short at the 2011 IDA Documentary Awards. Both films are the class of their respective fields, highly recommended when they screen together this coming Monday (11/7) as the Views from Japan double bill at this year’s DOC NYC. Concerned individuals can also still support the Japan Society’s earthquake relief fund by going here.