Japanese filmmaker Hitomi Kamanaka’s latest documentary, “Little Voices from Fukushima,” centers on a group of mothers trying to gain more information about the effects of radiation on their children’s health, because the authorities give them none. According to Kamanaka the women’s husbands refused to appear on camera “even though they support what their wives are doing.”
Because of their jobs, these men gravitate toward the establishment stance, which in this case holds that there is no solid evidence showing that the radioactivity released by the Fukushima accident has had a harmful effect on area residents, including children.
Public health in Fukushima is, according to Kamanaka, a gender-identified issue. “The nuclear industry is very much a man’s world,” she says.
In a interview with the Kyoto Journal by Anastasia Smith, Kamanka spoke about the impact of Fukushima. “Scientists understand now that for radiation safety, the acceptable level of radiation is zero. It takes time, the nature of radioactivity’s effect. Maybe three years after the disaster you cannot see a difference, but after three years you’re noticing: Oh, my neighbor or my relatives and my family are getting tired or are susceptible to the flu. Or your friend found a tumor in her breast. Small things happen after three years, but you can still convince yourself that everybody experience these problems.
That’s why I went to Belarus for my latest film, Little Voices from Fukushima, because there are 25 years’ difference between Chernobyl and Fukushima. These things already happened there. They can see the future, I think.
Even very, very small radiation has risks. This is common sense, but in Japan those who want to promote nuclear power say there is a threshold, and that below this line it is okay. People want to believe this. For example, in Fukushima, people want to live in their same house, have their same life, and their same community, even if it is polluted and contaminated. The government and the prefecture and some scientists say, “It’s alright.” It’s a variety of collaboration: collaboratively, people cheat themselves.
People are forced to choose: Do you forget about your social ties, or do you choose your health? Immediately following this kind of disaster, health issues seem less immediate because they aren’t apparent right away, and even then they are invisible at first. So people choose their homes and their careers and their communities instead of their health. This dynamic is used by the government to reduce their financial liability to these people. They say: “Oh, we don’t need to compensate them. People like to live in that community. They choose to live there.” People are silent. People don’t complain.
In Japan, whatever opportunity we might otherwise have to choose environmentally-sensitive energy sources is blocked by Japanese electric companies and the Japanese government. We can only have nuclear power, they say. So this is a kind of brainwashing, when they tell us there is no choice. Many, many people—almost all Japanese people—think they must accept nuclear power or they cannot survive. But more than one year passed already without nuclear power plants operating. We are surviving without nuclear power.
I think normal Japanese people, especially women, are not conscious about many of the social implications of what is occurring now. If mothers want to protect their children from radiation, then they will have to address this lack of consciousness. They will have to fight with the school because the school will serve the children food grown in Fukushima Prefecture. Mothers are not comfortable with this, so they will have to say something. But they are not trained to speak out. They are trained not to do it!
I am documenting the beginning of necessary change in this film. These Japanese women have not yet grown into their voices. I filmed mothers in Belarus who had grown into their new social responsibilities. They are great—like baby chickens. “Peep. Peep. Peep. Peep!” Trying and trying. And they are depressed. And they fail. But they do not give up. That is the point.
After the disaster in Fukushima, many mothers wanted to escape radiation and they asked their husbands to leave, but almost 100% of these husbands said, “What are you talking about? The government says it’s safe. Why do we need to move? We have work. I have business here. I work and that’s how you survive.”
Many mothers escaped without their husbands and this is another subject of my film. In Japanese we now call this boshi-hinan or “mothers and children escaping.” It’s a new word in Japanese.
The generations are divided in Japan. The younger generation isn’t for this issue. I have been a university professor for ten years. I teach anthropology and filmmaking. My students are very dull. They have little passion. From such a young age they have been in Japanese schools. They have received so much pressure from society. In Japan, they cannot have a childhood. They can only be miniature adults. When they arrive as my students they have already learned not to look outside of themselves to social issues. Maybe they have some personal interests, but they do not look outside.”