Gilles Laurent shoots a scene in Fukushima Prefecture.
The resilience of victims of the 2011 nuclear disaster inspired a Belgian sound engineer to direct his own film on them, but his chance to finish the documentary was stolen by a terrorist.
Gilles Laurent shot “La Terre Abandonnee” (Abandoned Land) in Fukushima Prefecture while he lived in Japan, and the film, which was completed posthumously, is now on show here. Sadly, the director is no longer with us, as he perished at age 46 in one of the terrorist attacks in Brussels on March 22, 2016.
Laurent’s family and people who appear in “La Terre Abandonnee” are hoping that many others will get the opportunity to watch the film, which has become part of Laurent’s lasting legacy.
The attacks on an airport and a subway station in Brussels resulted in 370 people killed or wounded. Laurent happened to be near a suicide attacker in the subway system and lost his life. He had been en route to a film-editing studio.
“I could never have imagined in the least that he would get caught in a terrorist attack,” said Toshiko Sato, 64, a resident of Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, who appears in the film. Sato was undergoing practical training as a guide-interpreter when she met Laurent.
Laurent had two daughters with Reiko Udo, his Japanese wife, and came to live in Japan in 2013. He decided to direct his film after he learned about the tough spirit of the residents of Fukushima Prefecture, who remained rooted in their own areas even after the nuclear disaster, and developed a desire to chronicle all that he saw on film.
Following the nuclear disaster, the central government issued an evacuation order to Minami-Soma’s Odaka district, where Sato lives. Sato met Laurent while she was preparing to return to her home.
“Media organizations overseas often report on areas of Fukushima Prefecture that are empty of people, but I want people to also learn about disaster survivors who are trying to be positive,” she said she told Laurent when she talked to him.
Laurent then asked to interview Sato. He went on to film her and her husband as they returned to their hometown to visit their family grave and had a gathering with friends at their home for the first time in quite a while.
“I sensed in him a will to report on the current state of Fukushima instead of making vocal calls of some sort or the other,” Sato said.
Laurent’s film crew took over the editing of footage after the director’s death and completed the film that would eventually be titled “La Terre Abandonnee.”
Alice, Laurent’s 42-year-old sister, who lives in Belgium, said she thinks about the feelings of nuclear disaster survivors through the prism of her own sorrow over the loss of her brother to terrorism.
Sylvie, 52, another sister of Laurent, said the film betrays the affectionate sensibilities of Gilles, who was a great nature lover, and added she wants the movie to be watched by many Japanese viewers.
“La Terre Abandonnee” is expected to be released to theaters across Japan.