Remembering the Great East Japan disaster

Reunion Itai Asu e no tokakan

IN MARCH 2011, an earthquake with magnitude 9.0 struck the Pacific coast of Tohoku, Japan. The disaster triggered massive tsunami that reached heights of up to 40 meters, destroying billion dollars worth of properties and infrastructures and taking lives of more than 19,000 people. 

The effects of the earthquake were felt all over Japan including in neighboring countries including Indonesia and the Philippines with waves of more than a meter high hitting the eastern seaboard of the country.

Months after the disaster struck, dozens of filmmakers made a realistic approach to recount the tragic day bringing back the pain of the events and telling world how a highly developed country can be vulnerable to natural calamities.

As we all know, people enjoy watching fictional disaster movies because they give viewers the opportunity to experience something they may not encounter in real life in safe surroundings. But the films inspired by the Tohoku disaster (or more popularly known as the Great East Japan earthquake) gives audiences an entirely different experience, it’s a deeper exposure to raw human emotions as they recount real events and real human experience.

Reunion (“Itai Asu e no tokakan”), a dramatization of the story of a retired undertaker who volunteers to work in a temporary morgue in one of the towns worst hit by the tsunami, is one of the films inspired by the tragic day in Japan.

The film begins with various depictions of Japanese life in the city of Kamaishi in Iwate Prefecture before the tragedy.

One half of the town is destroyed by the tsunami while the other side, separated only by a tunnel, remains unscathed. With casualty figures threatening to reach into the thousands, a temporary morgue is set up in a school gymnasium, where bewildered city officials, police and medical staff begin the task of examining and identifying the dead.

When former undertaker Aiba visits the temporary morgue he’s appalled by the rough manner in which the bodies are being treated. After seeing the chaotic recovery efforts, Aiba seeks the approval of the city mayor and volunteers his service. The former undertaker tends nearly a thousand corpses, ensuring that they are in a presentable state when bereaved family members arrived to identify them, as well as securing each one a proper cremation.

Aiba’s character and efforts give us a strong message how one can still think logically without compromising his natural emotions. Reunion, for one, is an emotionally charge film that captures the drama behind losing hope and letting go. With no fancy lighting and CGI employed to recreate the disaster, the film banks on scenes that capture human weakness and vulnerability. It touches the viewers on a more personal level leaving a lasting impression and making the person watching the film sob and reflect.

Filipino audience can easily relate to this masterpiece, even without any subtitle. They might even ask when local filmmakers are going to make one like this to recreate or recount the Yolanda tragedy.

Reunion is one of the 16 contemporary Japanese films featured in Eiga Sai film festival, an annual film event, which is part of the Philippine-Japanese Friendship Month celebration this July.

This year’s Eiga Sai theme revolves around the value of family, which is seen as a commonality between the Filipino and Japanese people—as well as living in calamity-prone territories. Screenings will run from July 3 to 13 at Shangri-La Plaza’s Cinema 4.

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