February 24, 2019
This February 20th I was invited by my friend Kolin Kobayashi in Paris to the avant-première of the movie Fukushima The Seal of the Sun, followed by a short debate, then to the private reception where Japan ex-prime Minister Naoto Kan was present.
Watching this movie brought to my mind the words of Gregory Jaczko, the former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2011, in his recently released book titled Confessions of a rogue nuclear regulator :
« And what about the problems that no engineer, scientist, or safety regulator can foresee. No amount of planning can prepare a plant for every situation. Every disaster makes its own rules – and humans cannot learn them in advance ».
« Generations of nuclear professionals have never experienced the confusion of a nuclear accident as it is happening. So it is essential that we remember and teach the lessons of Three Mile Island, chernobyl and Fukushima, for reviewing these accidents shows common themes of missed opportunities, human failings, and technological overconfidence. No amount of forgetting can change these simple facts. »
« As I learned in the wake of the Fukushima accident, crises on this scale are often characterized by incoherent communication and conflicting information. Both the Three Mile island and the Fukushima disasters featured contradictory assessments of the state of the reactor, a limited appreciation of the fact that the damage to the reactor had occured very early, and rapidly changing statements from elected officials. To the public, these statements can appear to suggest prevarication or incompetence. But when government officials – imperfect human beings like everyone else – try to make sense of the complicated physics of a nuclear reactor, they will invariably make mistakes in communication. »
Especially as in the Fukushima accident where TEPCO was not straightforward in giving the true facts to the Japanese government, but always prevaricating.
Synopsis of the movie Fukushima The Seal of the Sun
On March 11, 2011, Japan is rocked by an earthquake, followed by a tsunami and the triple nuclear disaster of Fukushima. Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s team is trying to cope with this situation. What really happened at the Prime Minister’s residence at the time of the worst crisis in the country’s history? Has the truth been fully revealed?
3 questions to the director – Futoshi Sato
How did you arrive on this project and how did you work with the producer and actors of the film?
Born in the area that was devastated by the 2011 earthquake, I wanted to talk about it, but I was wondering what might be the approach to make it a movie. For his part, Mr. Tamiyoshi Tachibana wondered about the possibility of adapting the book written by Tetsuro Fukuyama, Deputy Director of the Cabinet of Naoto Kan. “The Nuclear Crisis – A Testimony from the Residence of the Prime Minister” is a fundamental work that tells the truth of the events that occurred on those days at the Residence.
If this project was able to start and be realized, it is thanks to the total and complete implication of Mr Tamiyoshi Tachibana. The entire project team has been involved in the discussions around the script and during our debates, we thought it was necessary to make a choral film with in the center, the members of the Cabinet, but also with the journalists on the lookout for scoops, the workers of the power plant, as well as the inhabitants of the surrounding villages. As for casting, we managed to bring together actors who were completely convinced of the importance of the subject. We gave them all the information so that they thoroughly understand the issues of the film and their characters.
Was it important to you that the events would be experienced in a balanced way through the politicians and the people directly at the forefront of the disaster?
According to the people who experienced these events, their feeling completely varies. To make it a film capable of witnessing this story in all its diversity, we decided to adopt the different points of view of the protagonists. It was not possible to convey this reality to the public otherwise.
I remember that Naoto Kan told us: “If you represent the truth about the nuclear accident with firmness in the film, you can choose any method of expression.” He wanted the facts to be well presented. I started filming in a direction that was not meant to be easy. Instead, it was necessary to treat with audacity, an atmosphere of crisis due to a management and consequences quite unknown.
Which part of the movie is truth and which part is fiction?
The information, as to the reactions and attitudes of TEPCO following the nuclear accident, and those that have been passed on to the government are all true. We also had to do some research to recreate some scenes. In addition, about what had happened during these 5 days, it was impossible to extract and reproduce the huge amount of data.
For these reasons, and in order to stay true to the facts and to make a fiction easier to understand, we created a fictional character unfolding the story. We have made this journalist a kind of guide, to follow this whole story. The words and situations of certain scenes have been created to cover all events. On the other hand, the politicians, who are public figures, appear in the film under their true identities. Their dialogues and actions are also based on true facts.
3 questions au producteur – Tamiyoshi Tachibana
In 2011, you were close to Naoto Kan, the Japanese Prime Minister. Through this film, was it your intention to restore a truth that the latter experienced during this crisis?
At the time, I was simply a friend, one of his cadets in politics. It was only after the earthquake that I became a real member of his support group. It is not to reproduce the experience of the crisis experienced by Naoto Kan that I produced this film. The media and public opinion, manipulated by the latter, were totally hostile to the Prime Minister, accusing him of having aggravated the accident and amplified the damage. Faced with this rejection, I was plagued by anger and disgust as they led me to make this film to put things in order.
The reactors’ accident could, in the worst case, have caused the evacuation of the entire population living within a radius of 250km, including Tokyo, a total of 50 million people. Naoto Kan was the only one to have guessed the extreme gravity of the accident and to have realized that we were one step away from the collapse of Japan. If he had not been Prime Minister, if the crisis had to be managed by another in his place, the country could have been completely destroyed.
You have kept the real names of the various protagonists. What were the reactions of the people implicated, in particular the leaders of TEPCO, the company that managed the Fukushima power station?
Four politicians appear under their real names. In the history of Japanese cinema, this is the first time that characters, in a fiction film, take the true identity of people who really exist. Thus Naoto Kan is still present in the political life of Japan.
As for the other members of the government, as well as the officials and employees of TEPCO (TOBI in the film), these are not their real names, but we can easily imagine who they are!
However, there was no protest or legal proceedings on their part. I do not know if they saw the movie … or not. If they saw it, they did not want to talk about it publicly. I hope that today, they are a little ashamed of this catastrophic situation of which they are, in part, responsible.
What was the impact of the film when it was released in Japan? Has it sparked a real public debate as Japanese nuclear power resumed its place in the country, as if nothing had happened in 2011?
The accident at the Fukushima nuclear power station inspired the authors of “Shin Godzilla” (the new Gozilla), a movie released in Japan on July 29, 2016. That movie was designed by two of the largest film production companies for a total budget of 13 million euros. Thanks to this film, the producers have earned more than 64 million euros!
On our side, our film was screened in independent theaters. Obviously, this has not been the same success, especially in terms of financial benefits.
Citizens continue to organize weekly independent screenings. It should be noted that the 54 nuclear reactors, distributed among the 18 Japanese plants, were shut down in September 2013.
7 years after the disaster, 9 units restarted. The film has become a powerful vector for citizens who speak out against the restart.
Aujourd’hui, environ 70 % de la population est en effet opposée à l’énergie nucléaire.
Synopsis of the movie, provided by Destiny Films, translated by Hervé Courtois (D’un Renard)
Confessions of a rogue nuclear regulator by gregory B. Jaczko, published by Simon & Schuster, New York, 2019