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A new documentary that questions whether it is right to sacrifice a community's way of life for the betterment of the wider public has revealed the turmoil and hardships faced by those who were displaced in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster.

"Tsushima -- Fukushima Speaks Part 2 --," directed by freelance journalist Toshikuni Doi, features the testimonies of people seeking the return of their hometown, which was deemed uninhabitable for a century after the world's worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown occurred.

The documentary explores the story of a minority group that must endure suffering for the happiness and convenience of others, a theme of global resonance, with Doi, 71, explaining that the film focuses on the impact the accident had on the daily lives of people forced to leave their homes.

Their hometown, Tsushima district in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, is some 30 kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was crippled by the massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. Most of its 1,400 former residents remain unable to return due to the contamination left behind by radioactive materials.

The 187-minute film, whose version with English subtitles will be available online for one week from March 11 for audiences outside Japan, delves into people's memories of their hometown, with many expressing deep affection for their tight-knit community, where the rural setting meant residents were close to each other.

"Many people don't care much about nuclear issues," Doi said in an interview with Kyodo News. "But if the film can show the impact the accident had on people's lives and what they thought about being driven away and losing their hometown, the audience will be drawn to it, even if they are not deeply interested in such issues."

Many of the film's 18 interviewees -- who took part in Doi's project of preserving disaster victims' testimonies for future generations -- have special feelings for their hometown. Some shed tears as they spoke about their personal histories and how their lives were changed irrevocably following the disaster.

The film begins with Yoshito Konno, who was among those told by officials of the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., and the central government in the fall of 2011 that people from Tsushima would likely be unable to return "for the next 100 years."

"People were speechless," Konno, 79, says in the film, continuing to say that it made him think there would be "no one left after 100 years," which prompted him to start compiling records on the histories of families who had lived in the area.

Kano Sudo, 72, lived in poverty with three children after she divorced her estranged husband. She worked hard at local factories to support her children, but even buying daily rice was a struggle.

"I had even thought about (suicide) with my three children," she admits in the film, adding that she was only able to get through those times "because of the help of those around us."

Her neighbors, she says, would routinely feed her kids and watch over them, to prevent them from being led astray as they grew up.

"I had no money, but there was the joy of being alive," she says. "I hit rock bottom in Tsushima, but it was the people of Tsushima who helped me get back on my feet."

Stressing how frustrated she felt after evacuating to the city of Fukushima, Sudo shares how lonely it felt to have no one to talk to, and how she would often end up remaining at home by herself during the day.

Her grandsons' lives were also dramatically changed for the worse after the nuclear disaster, with two of them facing discrimination and bullying after they were transferred to a new elementary school.

"They didn't see me as a human being," Hayato Sudo, 21, says in the film, noting that not only the other students but also the teachers refrained from approaching evacuees at the school. "They looked at me like I was something dirty because of the radiation," he explains.

One day in school, Hayato found the word "stupid" scribbled on his notebook, but his teacher told him he probably wrote it himself.

"I couldn't speak about (my experiences) to anyone, because no one would help me," Hayato says, adding that he did not want to go to school while his health continued to deteriorate. "I want to forget what happened, but I also feel I want to hold on to my memories."

Known for his extensive coverage of Palestinian issues, Doi spent around 10 months documenting people's testimonies from the spring of 2021, capturing Tsushima throughout the four seasons and its abandoned houses surrounded by pockets of nature. It was the sequel to his previous documentary, "Fukushima Speaks," which covered a larger segment of the prefecture's population.

The new film also shows how people used to live in Tsushima before the disaster -- families working in rice fields or holding festivals together -- and includes footage of a traditional rice-planting dance passed down through generations.

"This is not a film that avoids nuclear power," Doi said. "I hope people get a sense of the impact the nuclear accident had through the loss of these people's precious things, as well as why they were forced to live like this."

Referring to the sacrifices made by the former residents of Tsushima, Doi suggested it is analogous to those in Okinawa Prefecture shouldering the burden of hosting the bulk of U.S. military facilities for the sake of Japan's security.

During the film, Hidenori Konno, the 76-year-old leader of a group of plaintiffs who sought damages from TEPCO and the state, and the restoration of their hometown to its original condition, calls into question the justification for upending the lives of a few for the greater economic benefit of the many.

In July 2021, a district court ordered the government and TEPCO to pay compensation totaling some 1 billion yen ($7 million) to 634 plaintiffs, while rejecting calls for their hometown's restoration. The plaintiffs have appealed the ruling.

"From an economic utility standpoint, the best policy would be to transfer us to another place and set up a compensation system so that we can make a living," rather than spending massive amounts of the state's budget so that some hundreds of Tsushima residents can return home, Konno says.

But he goes on to argue it is wrong to sever the local residents' ties to their former community while denying their basic rights to joy and fulfillment as human beings -- in effect, turning a blind eye to the damage done to each individual whose life was upended.

"It is not only about Tsushima," Konno says. "This issue should be common to all of Japan and the whole world."

The film was released in Tokyo on March 2 and will be followed by screenings in other major cities, including Osaka and Aichi prefectures.






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