After documenting post-3/11 chaos, Ash returns to find families fearful, angry over radioactive legacy
Award-winning Filmmaker on Fukushima: “People have low white blood cell counts… children and adults experiencing more nosebleeds and rashes”
Filmmaker Ian Thomas Ash revisited families living between 20 and 30 km of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant for 'A2-B-C,' a sequel of sorts to his documentary 'In The Grey Zone.'
For independent filmmaker Ian Thomas Ash, making documentaries is an organic process. “I’m not a journalist, and I don’t try to make judgments,” he says. “My reaction is to film what is going on around me and see where it leads.”
Ash, an American who has called Japan home for the past 10 years, was in Tokyo when the massive earthquake struck on March 11, 2011. He began by simply filming scenes around him, such as the panic buying and setsuden electricity-saving measures, little knowing this would become the prologue to a much bigger story.
Ash and O’Neill ended up in the town of Minamisoma, filming and living among people in the 20-30 km zone who were under government orders to remain inside as much as possible at the time. “These were people in the gray zone,” Ash explains. “They were not being compensated by the government to evacuate, and couldn’t afford to leave on their own. They were mostly farmers.”
It was this idea of living in a state of flux, a shadowy world when nothing was certain, that gave rise to the title of the resulting documentary, “In the Grey Zone.”
The story is continued in “A2-B-C,” a sequel of sorts to “In the Grey Zone,” depicting children in Fukushima 18 months later.
When he began hearing about an apparent increase in throat nodules and cysts among children in Fukushima, he knew this was a story that had to be told. There is an added urgency this time, since “A2-B-C” depicts the grassroots efforts of mothers in Fukushima to give a voice to their children and their worries for their future. Fathers are largely absent from the film, but not because they didn’t share their wives’ concern, Ash points out. Most were simply too busy keeping their heads down and working to support their families.
The film’s title comes from the medical classifications for the size and number of throat nodules and cysts, but the film deals with more than just worries about the risk of thyroid cancer among families in the region. “The film covers other health and environmental issues, such as our inability to decontaminate the area. People have low white blood cell counts, and both children and adults are experiencing more nosebleeds and rashes. Not to mention the constant stress they live with.”
After the screening, audience members shared their reactions to what they had just seen, which Ash filmed and posted on his YouTube channel. Particularly poignant was the following message to the mothers of Fukushima, from a young woman from Chernobyl who was 2 at the time of the disastrous nuclear accident in 1986: “I want to say it’s not wrong to care about your own children. Don’t believe what people say when your feelings say it isn’t right. I think it’s OK to ask about the things being hidden and to be angry and worried about the safety and future of your own child.”
nvitations to show “A2-B-C” have been coming in thick and fast from film festivals around the world, including at the Raindance Film Festival in the U.K. (Sept. 25 to Oct. 6) and the United Nations Association Film Festival in the U.S. (Oct. 17-27). Ash is both humbled by the nod to his work and grateful for the opportunity to gain international attention for families in Fukushima.
“As citizens, we believe that the government has our best interests at heart. But that isn’t always the case. The turning point for me was Hurricane Katrina in the U.S. Those who could leave did. It was the vulnerable ones who were left behind — the elderly, the poor, the sick. And now a similar situation is occurring in Fukushima.”
“A2-B-C” will be shown in Tokyo on Sept. 14 as part of the Pia Film Festival and next month at the Yamagata Documentary International Film Festival. Ash hopes that people will take the opportunity to view his film and think carefully about the implications.
“There is no resolution at the end of my film. This could happen to any of us. We need to become active participants in government policy and understand what is happening.”