Nuclear disasters are bad for the environment, right? It certainly hasn’t hurt the flora in Fukushima. Large mass merchandiser parking lots are now overgrown with weeds and grass. Naoto Matsumura’s cows and ostrich are still hanging on just fine, but only time will tell whether they will thrive like the Wolves of Chernobyl. Being domesticated livestock (that now will never be eaten), they are dependent on the survivor-farmer to feed them. Fortunately for them, that is exactly the sort of lonely task Matsumura regularly tends to in Mark Olexa & Francesca Scalisi’s Half-Life in Fukushima (clip here), which screens during the 2017 San Francisco International Film Festival.
As of Olexa & Scalisi’s filming, it has been five years since the 2011 disaster. In many ways, the restricted Fukushima region resembles the Pripyat Exclusion Zone, but that is hardly good news for Matsumura. At this point, he has given up hope his community will ever rebound in his lifetime. Yet, Matsumura and his father have returned to their home, much like the aged Babushkas of Chernobyl.
If you have seen a lot of documentaries on Chernobyl (and lord knows we have have), you will be struck by the visual similarities with Matsumura’s Fukushima. Of course, Olexa, Scalisi, and their cinematographer Jakob Stark clearly had an eye peeled for surreal imagery. They do indeed capture some stunningly eerie visuals. However, Half-Life is definitely the sort of film that demands viewers accept it on its own long-take aesthetic terms, or they can just go jump in a radioactive lake.
Half-Life clocks in at a mere sixty-one minutes, including the entire closing credits and standing on its tippy toes, but it still takes its own time. Olexa & Scalisi make no concessions to anyone’s attention span, yet for the fore-warned, it is a distinctively contemplative and immersive viewing experience. Recommended for patrons of meditative documentaries, Half-Life in Fukushima screens tomorrow (4/13), Monday (4/17), and Wednesday (4/19), as part of this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival.