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by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

This Generation14-plus film has perfect timing. With the ever-present COVID-19 pandemic, we can all relate to the main character’s process of grief in this film. Seventeen-year-old Haru (Serena Motola) suffers years of grief. She is haunted by the loss of her family due to extraordinary circumstances. In 2011 an underwater earthquake with the magnitude of 9.0 to 9.1 shook the northern region of Tōhoku causing in turn a Tsunami which damaged the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant cooling system. Twenty thousand people died and five hundred thousand people were displaced. Haru’s family that day vanished, most probably swept out to sea. So when Haru’s aunt is hospitalized, Haru suffers a shock that brings up forgotten horrors. She realizes she must go home and sets off on a mourning pilgrimage. She begins in Hiroshima, then to Tokyo and finally to Fukushima. Along the way she meets many people who tell her stories, give advice and support her on this road trip.

This slow-paced film gives the impression that the Japanese director Nobuhiro Suwa was creating an ink wash painting called sumi-e (Japanese: 墨絵). Colors are set in cool colors until finally the sunlight shows through. It takes one layer at a time as we go deeper and deeper into Haru’s psyche. We painfully feel the stroke of the ink pressing the paper but it is so difficult to paint that it takes a long time for it to penetrate the paper. He does this by using sound and small details of change that we detect even the smallest change. At least that is how I see Haru’s grief which has taken years for her to come to terms with the reality of what happened. It seems so long ago, but the images of the Fukushima disaster by no means have been forgotten. I feel the same with the pandemic COVID-19. We will see people years later still trying to deal with what happened this year as well as next year.