YIDFF 2013 Cinema with Us 2013
Tough It Out: One Year After the 2011 Great Sanriku Tsunami
An Interview with Morioka Norihito (Director)

We Won’t Forget What Happened

Q: Your film includes scenes that were taken only 28 hours after the earthquake struck. What were things like when you began filming?

MN: Three Mainichi Broadcasting teams headed straight from Osaka to Sendai—one by air, one by the railway that ran along the Sea of Japan coast, and one by car. It soon became clear that air travel would be impossible, so we were down to the train and car crews, but heading north proved to be very difficult. We eventually managed to reach the national highway, which you see covered with rubble at the beginning of the film, in the car of one of the local people. We passed over the hills by foot, and, even though we hadn’t been able to use our cell phones, the two crews happened to find each other in Minamisanriku, a town isolated after the earthquake, and we began our reporting.

We found a place to stay at a nearby hot spring inn, but since it was in the disaster area, there was no hot water, though we did have electricity, and we depended on relief goods brought by our support staff. We maintained three-man crews consisting of a reporter, a cameraman, and a sound technician. The crews stayed for ten days to two weeks at a time, and until the Golden Week holiday at the beginning of May, we had two or three crews stationed there at all times.

Q: You had to carry out your reporting in extreme circumstances, but did you experience any difficulties or dilemmas?

MN: We wondered whether our television coverage was doing the people in the disaster area any good, and some of the younger reporters thought it would be better for us to be distributing food or splitting firewood. However, we recorded over 800 hours of footage in Minamisanriku over a one-year period, and when we re-edited the footage as a film, which we first screened for the townspeople last September, they told us that they were thankful for what we had documented. For the people affected by the disaster, it was difficult to have an objective understanding of what had happened. Making the film helped us feel like we had finally done something meaningful.

Q: What did you try to accomplish through your reporting?

MN: Our main goal was to confirm the safety of citizens, and to report on the situation of the town. One month after the earthquake, we put together a special program that examined how the tsunami had struck the town, and how people had fled from it. Our producer, Imoto Satoshi, had produced a television program that followed the people of Kobe city’s Nagata ward after the Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, and we based our approach to this program on his experiences. The news stations in the disaster area had many things they needed to cover, but since we were from a station that had experienced a similar sort of disaster, I thought that perhaps we could provide a closer, more in-depth look at the people of the town. We show people our programs when we ask if we can interview them, but in Minamisanriku, there was no one who refused. The warmth of the townspeople was a great encouragement to us, and whenever we replaced a reporter, we always made sure to keep the townspeople informed.

Six months after the earthquake, you’d hear in the news that the temporary housing situation was going well, but as you can see in this film, there were a fair amount of small problems. I want to convey things like this, which show the true state of the disaster victims. I try to carry out objective reporting, minimizing the presence of the reporter as much as possible and avoiding becoming personally involved. In this film, I was careful to remove all narration, while retaining elements—such as the sound of the wind and the creaking of collapsed machinery—that gave viewers a sense of what things really felt like in Minamisanriku.

Q: What gave you the opportunity to turn this into a film?

MN: It was originally a proposal from our contents business division, one of our other departments. The idea was to transcend the limitations of a station that could only be seen by viewers in the Osaka area, and to reach a wider audience by making the footage into a film, which would also help to keep memories of the disaster from fading. We released it on video a year after it was shown in theaters, and it looks like we’ll finally be able to donate some of the proceeds to Minamisanriku. I’m also currently working on a program to commemorate the third anniversary of the disaster.

(Compiled by Muroya Toyoko)

Interviewers: Muroya Toyoko, Iida Yukako / Translator: Kato Lisa Somers
Photography: Nagata Kanako / Video: Nagata Kanako / 2013-10-13