There have been numerous responses by Japanese artists and filmmakers to the earthquake that hit Japan in 2011 and the subsequent tsunami. By contrast, Greetings from Fukushima, a 2016 feature by German director Doris Dörrie, gives a foreigner’s perspective on the disaster and its aftermath.
The film is also known as Fukushima, Mon Amour, a reference to Alain Resnais’ 1959 classic Hiroshima, Mon Amour, which was set amid the devastation of the atomic bomb. Dörrie’s film has a more straightforward structure than Resnais’ elliptical work.
In fact, Dörrie does not focus on the wider impact of the tsunami, instead limiting the story to a relationship between a troubled German girl and a grumpy Japanese woman, both of whom are trying to come to terms with events from their pasts. As Dörrie reveals more about her protagonists, the Fukushima tragedy plays into the main theme of overcoming grief to build a better future.
Marie (Rosalie Thomass) is a German street theatre artist who travels to Fukushima to entertain a small community of elderly people who have returned to a safe part of the exclusion zone around the damaged nuclear reactor. The job doesn’t work out but she strikes up an unlikely friendship with the elderly Satomi (prolific actress Kaori Momoi), who’s a geisha. Satomi moves back into her old house, which is still within the exclusion zone, and Marie reluctantly starts to visit her. By roundabout methods, the two women assuage each other’s grief.
Dörrie is no stranger to Japan, having travelled extensively around the country, and made a few films there, including 2008’s Cherry Blossoms, which also viewed the nation from a German perspective. She made a bold decision to shoot Greetings from Fukushima on location within the exclusion zone – in black-and-white – and even carried a Geiger counter to monitor radiation levels.
“We lived there. We shot there. We never left the zone through the entire shoot. Everything [you see in the film] is the real thing,” Dörrie told the Post in an interview in 2016. “Our main location is 11km away from the nuclear power plant.”
Greetings from Fukushima is a cool-headed, quietly moving drama about personal loss and recovery. Sensibly choosing to depict the story through the eyes of a young German visitor, rather than a Japanese protagonist, the film avoids making any cultural errors, although its decision to focus on a geisha, rather than someone less traditional, does tend to reinforce the stereotypical view of Japanese women.
Greetings from Fukushima will be screened on May 18 at the Hong Kong Film Archive,
in Sai Wan Ho, as part of the German Film Forum – Dangerous Times programme.