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Interview with Aya HANABUSA, the director of "HOURINOSHIMA"
Written by Mizuki TANAKA   
Published: May 01 2011

A film festival entitled “25 NENME NO Chernobyl”, which highlights movies regarding nuclear energy and tests, is held at Polepole Higashinakano from April 23 to May 6. This event has been held annually since 2008 in various styles including late-night show. This year it is held on a larger scale than usual with the concept of being held in collaboration with the exhibition “GENPATSU WO MIRU (to see the atomic bomb)”, which was scheduled to be held at Meguro Museum of Art, Tokyo in April. The exhibition “GENPATSU WO MIRU (to see the atomic bomb)” was cancelled in view of influences from the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station which happened due to the 2011 off the Pacific coast of Tohoku Earthquake in March 2011, but this festival at Polepole Higashinakano will provide us with an opportunity to consider nuclear energy once again.

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Movies shown in “25 NENME NO Chernobyl” include story films, such as “Stalker” (director: Andrei Arsenyevich Tarkovsky, 1979) which seems to have been made under the theme of the site of nuclear power station, documentary movies, including “Nadya’s Village” (director: Seiichi Motohashi, 1997) and “HIBAKUSHA, SEKAI NO OWARINI” (director: Hitomi Kamanaka, 2003) , a promotional film entitled “GENSHIRYOKU HATSUDEN NO YOAKE” (director: Minoru Morita, 1966), which was made as part of PR activity when a nuclear power plant was established, an experimental movie named “GENPATSU KIRINUKI CHO” (director: Noriaki Tsuchimoto, 1982), in which newspaper clippings regarding nuclear energy were comically narrated by Shoichi Ozawa, and slides, such as “HIROSHIMA WO MITA HITO” (organizer: Noriaki Tsuchimoto, photographer: Seiichi Motohashi, 1985) and “Chernobyl, INOCHI NO DAICHI” (organizer: Masahiro Nishiyama, photographer: Seiichi Motohashi, 1993), both of which were shown not at theaters but at school auditoriums and town halls.

This article covers an interview with Aya Hanabusa, who directed “Houri-no-shima”, which was made in 2010 and is to be shown in “Chernobyl after 25 years”*1 . “Houri-no-shima” is a documentary film which covers people living in Iwaishima, Kaminoseki-cho, Yamguchi Prefecture. They have been showing opposition to building nuclear power stations from about thirty years ago. This film depicts daily lives of the island’s residents who have been participating in demonstrations against the sea pollution under the situation that the other side of Iwaishima is a site for Kaminoseki Nuclear Power Plant. In the film, we can see various kinds of impressive scenes of people, such as a fisherman who speaks to fishes friendly on a beautiful sea, a farmer who works diligently at a field which was made by plowing up rocky hills, and elderly people who get together at night for having tea and enjoying conversation. They are involved in antinuclear power movements casually in their peaceful daily lives.

After the nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station which occurred due to the 2011 off the Pacific coast of Tohoku Earthquake, antinuclear energy demonstrations have started to be held in various places in Japan. Actually, an antinuclear power movement still continues in Iwaishima, and, through this interview, I would like to introduce “Houri-no-shima” as a movie which shows one of examples of pioneering antinuclear energy demonstrations.

- Before I watched this movie, I had had a tense impression about antinuclear energy demonstrations. So, I was very surprised that Iwaishima’s residents participate in demonstrations so naturally in their peaceful daily lives.

Hanabusa: Antinuclear power demonstrations held in Iwaishima seem to be based on their body sense. The island’s residents support their daily lives by engaging in jobs which need to use their bodies. Their lives are benefited from natural surroundings, such as seas and mountains. Therefore, there seem to be something which their bodies have memorized over many years. Old women living in Iwaishima can clearly express their likes and dislikes based not on theoretical grounds but their experiences and body sense. This means that residents in Iwaishima are supported by something inflexible which we Japanese have almost forgotten in our present-day lives. And this would be the reason I was strongly attracted by Iwaishima.

- In this movie, in addition to scenes of demonstrations, we can find various scenes of the residents’ peaceful daily lives, such as that they are fishing on the sea or engaging in farming in the fields which were originally rocky hills, and old women get together at night for having tea and a chat. These scenes were shot so sensitively.

Hanabusa: The reason I persisted on depicting scenes of their daily lives was that I myself wanted to know what they wished to preserve.

Mostly, when we come to know about some problem, the problem has already been caused. And, we feel as if we know about everything of the problem only by hearing about people who are involved in the problem, getting information and data regarding the problem, and hearing about the problem from some people of different positions. However, I wonder if these information and data are really important things which we must know. Mass media always cover only residents’ protests. There is no explanation about what they are trying to preserve. This indicates what both mass media and audience always miss when we “know” about something. As for making TV programs, there are many limitations, such as that it takes long time to shoot scenes of daily lives, it is difficult to depict actual conditions of lives, it is also hard to make such scenes impressive, the length of OA time is mostly limited, and the existence of sponsors must not be neglected. Unlike directors of TV shows, I, a freelance director, was able to film this kind of low-key movie (laugh) by taking as long as two years to shoot scenes of daily lives of the island’s residents.

- In fact, the island’s residents’ lifestyle was not luxurious but simple. However, I felt their daily lives were dramatic. For instance, conversations among them were interesting and lifestyles of residents who had been living in the islands for many years captured my heart. Why did you intend to highlight not the residents’ demonstrations but their lives which they wish to preserve?

Hanabusa: One photograph inspired me.
When I visited the island for the first time, my original image of “antinuclear power movement” completely changed. I met a number of humorous people. I had a really pleasurable time during my stay in the island. (laugh) For me, the island’s residents seem to be similar to attractive characters in a film entitled “Men Are Tough”. Approximately seven years after my first visit to Iwaishima, I had an opportunity to see a photograph of antinuclear energy demonstration held in Iwaishima. The picture showed the front line of protests. There were people who were having a skirmish with Chubu Electronic Power Corporation with a grim look on their faces. The picture made me feel painful. At the same time, I was extremely frustrated since I felt that we could not grasp the truth of the residents only from that one picture. I wondered if the photo successfully showed the residents’ facial expressions in their daily lives. I believed that I could find their different aspects in their antinuclear energy demonstrations after seeing their daily lives.

- Unlike other thought-provoking films which convey us adverse effects of nuclear energy by using data, in this movie, you placed more emphasis on taking scenes of Iwaishima residents’ everyday “lives” rather than those of their antinuclear power demonstrations. Were you aware of “taking shots of demonstrations” in the course of making this film?

Hanabusa: In fact, most people may have already known that Iwaishima’s residents have been opposing to nuclear power stations, but I wished to know what they valued and if possible I would like to think a great deal of it as same as the residents. Then, after considering the most important thing for the residents, I noticed that it was their daily lives. So, on the contrary, it was difficult for me to take shots of demonstrations and protests when I started to make this film. However, during my stay in Iwaishima, I came to notice that antinuclear power movements had been well-established as part of the residents’ daily lives. Namely, for them, continuing their present lives was the same thing as opposing nuclear power plants. The island’s residents were always clearly aware of that in their lives and it was a habitual practice for them to be gathered for demonstrations more than once a week and to hold protests if some kind of problem occurred. Therefore, I came to regard demonstrations and protests as part of their daily lives.

So, it seemed that protests held in Iwaishima reflected the residents’ ways of living. While making this film, I was always conscious of the way of assimilating into the residents’ customs. Of course it was impossible for me to become completely synchronized with their lives, but, throughout the shooting period, I was trying to depict the true state of them through frames.

In addition, I felt that it was impossible for me to express the compelling nature of their opposing nuclear power stations by employing measures, such as words, data and narrations. Therefore, it was a continuous challenge for me to find out the way of depicting the real state of their movement by using images. Then, I noticed that there did not seem to be any way other than to shoot their daily lives. And, finally, I utilized means of interviewing.

- In the interview, I found a number of realistic and impressive statements.

Hanabusa: At first, I did not intend to interview Iwaishima residents in the course of making this film because of my fear of expressing something by using words. For example, if I asked them, “Why do you oppose to nuclear power plants?”, and they answered to my question concretely by using some words, I would have assumed that I could understand their opinions completely. I wanted to avoid making such assumption. There is a limit to depict something by using only words. And also, I did not want to utilize means of interviewing to persuade viewers of this film. Therefore, it was a prohibited technique for me to interview someone.

However, as I became closely connected with the island’s residents, I noticed that they could express their own individual feelings by using words. Therefore, I came to intend to record their opinions and feelings not as information or means for persuading viewers but as their own words. Before that, I heard from a number of Iwaishima residents without taking frames. However, finally when we were interviewing them, both I and a cameraperson, Chizuna Ohkubo, felt that their statements were realistic. Also, it was really a valuable experience for us to have an opportunity to listen to such their talking.

Did you visit Iwaishima before making ““Houri-no-shima”?

Hanabusa:In fact, I went to Iwaishima for the first time as part of the shooting for the movie in March 2008, but I was working at Seiichi Motohashi (film director)’s office in 2003 and in that year I had a chance to visit Iwaishima to attend a screening of “Alexey and IZUMI” (director: Seiichi Motohashi, 2002).*2 That was the first time I went to Iwaishima. And only after that time I learnt that the island’s residents had been opposing to Kaminoseki Nuclear Power Plant for a long time. Before visiting the island, I assumed that Iwaishima was a closed island which evoked an image of war and I felt extremely nervous about visiting there. I did not know how I could relate to the island’s residents and if there was anything I could do for the island. However, when I arrived the island and met its residents, the atmosphere of them completely changed my image of the island. There was no pessimistic image. (laugh) “Hi! Young lady! Where did you come from?” “How young you are!” “This must be delicious. Don’t hesitate to eat it!” The residents’ facial expressions made me feel that they were really responsible. At the same time, I got a long-forgotten image of the island as if it had been my hometown.

- Then, had you been planning to make this film from that time?

Hanabusa: No, I hadn’t. In fact, I had been working at Motohashi’s office, Polepoletimes, for about five years, but I was engaged in a job only as one of clerical staffs in the office and I did not intend to take photographs or film movies for myself.

However, it was a fact that I had been having an intense impression of the island after visiting Iwaishima in 2003. I felt that the island was so interesting that it would be suitable for being shot for movies. Also, I was aware of circumstances of Iwaishima even after moving back from the island.


At “25 NENME NO Chernobyl” in Polepole Higashinakano, “Houri-no-shima” is to be screened from 19:00 on April 23, 14:20 on April 25, 16:00 on April 27, 16:40 on April 30, and 19:20 on May 3. In addition, you will have a chance to hear teach-in by Aya Hanabusa after the screening from 19:00 on April 23, 16:00 on April 27, and 16:40 on April 30.
At “25 NENME NO Chernobyl” in Polepole Higashinakano, “Alexey and IZUMI” is to be screened from 14:20 on April 23, 16:40 on April 26, 19:00 on May 2, 14:20 on May 5, and 16:40 on May 6.

Reffered film:

"HOURINOSHIMA" directed by Aya HANABUSA, screeed April 23 - May 6, 2011 at PolePole Higashi-nakano (http://www.mmjp.or.jp/pole2/)

Last Updated on October 27 2015

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