by Ran Ma
The Tōhoku Documentary Trilogy (Tōhoku kiroku eiga sanbusaku), co- directed by Hamaguchi Ryūsuke and Sakai Kō, consists of four doc- umentary features, namely Sound of Waves (Nami no oto, 2011), Voices from the Waves Shinchimachi (Nami no koe Shinchimachi, 2013), Voices from the Waves Kesennuma (Nami no koe Kesennuma, 2013), and Storytellers (Utau hito, 2013).1 Northeastern Japan (i.e., the Tōhoku area) was struck by the Triple Disaster of earthquake (the Great East Japan Earthquake), tsunami, and nuclear leak on 11 March 2011 – now known as “3.11.” With the support and sponsorship from cultural bodies such as the Japan Arts Fund, Sendai Mediatheque (in coordination with their founding of Centre for Remembering 3.11 in May 2011), and Tokyo University of the Arts, Hamaguchi and Sakai were able to travel to the tsunami-stricken areas as early as April 2011 to start filming. Under such apocalyptic circumstances where homes and hometowns are destroyed, lives lost, and people’s life trajectories and psyche irreversibly changed by the catastrophe and its consequences, a burning question that has been pressing if not haunting lots of art practitioners – artists and filmmakers alike – concerns what art can do in the aftermath of 3.11 apropos its role within “a wider social, economic, and political context” (Mōri 2015, 170). A crucial question posed in this chapter concerns how we could use the Tōhoku Documentary Trilogy to better rethink the politics of artmaking and filmmaking in a post-Fukushima society.
Under a heuristic category that I propose as the “Post-Fukushima Documentary,” this chapter first draws attention to a wide spectrum of documentary-making praxes that have emerged in conjunction with the discourses of remembering and therefore, forgetting, apropos of the triple disaster in post-3.11 Japan. I particularly look at how some of the independent documentary works by Japanese filmmakers, characterized with their cinéma verité style and “on-the-scene” aesthetics,2 have potentially contested the archiving efforts initiated by, for instance, the public broadcaster NHK (Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai, Japan Broadcasting Corporation). The intention is not to suggest a simplistic, binary view in opposing the multi-scalar institutional, transmedia efforts instantiated by NHK’s practices, against those of independent documentarists. Binarism as such can hardly accommodate the diversity of 3.11-related documentary practices in terms of style and the choice of subjects. And the “NHK-versus-independent documentary” model will be further complicated if we take into account the rhizomatic network and platforms of producing and circulating these media contents and film works, although I cannot elaborate on the latter point in this chapter.3 Arguably, as part of its work of archiving, NHK’s 3.11-related “testimony” videos, in threading together interviews with the disaster survivors and witnesses, have been edited and processed in such a uniform manner in reinforcing a pre-established ideological framework about post-disaster resilience and reconstruction.
This chapter highlights how the Tōhoku Documentary Trilogy has exemplified an alternative mode of filmmaking that intervenes in the common documentary practices around 3.11. French philosopher Jacques Rancière’s discussions on politics and aesthetics help me to elucidate how I approach the interrelations between politicization and depoliticization. For Rancière, politics concerns the “distribution of the sensible,” regarding how the “conditions of sense perception” may be disrupted and reconfigured (Panagia and Deranty 2014, 96). As the philosopher illuminates, politics revolves around “what is seen and what can be said about it, around who has the ability to see and the talent to speak, around the properties of spaces and the possibilities of time” (Rancière 2011, 13). That is, politics occurs in the form of a dispute within the settled, hierarchical order and perceptual arrangements wherein subjects are only assigned “given roles, possibilities, and competences,” a situation considered to be “consensus” (Rancière, Carnevale, and Kelsey 2007, 263). With Rancière, I argue that the debate of de/politicization would remain superficial if it cannot be connected with an understanding of politics as a dynamic process wherein “the conditions of possibility of discourses on politics” are constantly questioned (Baumbach 2010, 58). Politicization and depoliticization should not be viewed in static antagonism, and a scenario of (de)politicization may deviate from the Rancièrian “politics” given how it may still be “conditioned by a framework of consensus and inclusion that attempts to neutralize the radical dimension of political equality”(Baumbach 2010, 58). Crucially, the politics of the aesthetic act shall be understood as “permanent guerrilla war” (Rancière, Carnevale, and Kelsey 2007, 266) in disrupting the “conventional forms of looking, of hearing, of perceiving,” and a dispute as such is conceptualized as “dissensus” (Panagia and Deranty 2014, 103). In the context of this study, I argue, the question of politicization or political engagement shall be re-framed as an issue of aesthetic intervention. And our focus shall be shifted onto how the ways that filmmaking/image-making have been correlated to the “mode of appearance,” regarding who can say and hear what, where, and when (see Demos 2013), and concerning how the dividing line between the visible and invisible, between the audible and noise, is constantly drawn and redrawn.
To be more specific, my survey of Tōhoku Documentary Trilogy revolves around a two-fold question. On the one hand, it examines the mode of content and the mode of expression or stylistic choice regarding how Hamaguchi and Sakai have reinvented and transformed the conventional interview through the cinematic mechanism of storytelling. I argue that another critical issue underpins political agency. However, my focus is not on the filmmakers’ role in political mobilization and activism per se; rather, I turn to how the documentaries contribute to re-configuring the sensible fabrics, so that previously invisible and marginalized subjects, together with their sensibilities and feelings, may emerge to take part in the field of aesthetics.
Responding to the sense of urgency when confronted with the overwhelming experience of the triple disaster, image-makers (filmmakers and artists) of diverse backgrounds from within Japan and beyond have set out to grapple with the wide-ranging subject matters surrounding 3.11. They have started highly diversified documentary filmmaking projects that I will examine through the heuristic of “Post-Fukushima Documentary” (shortened to PFD). These works engage multi-layered discourses that have been generated and delimited by the triple catastrophe and its aftermath, which are understandably interlaced with various socio-political, economic, ecological, and humanist persuasions that have come to frame the “evidence” intended by the filmmakers and/or production entities and render them plausible. According to film scholar Fujiki Hideaki, these 3.11 documentaries “have constituted a tendentious yet contested terrain for the imagination” in relation to nuclear catastrophe (2017, 91), connected with entangled issues such as neoliberal post-crisis management, and biopolitical control and surveillance in present-day Japanese society. Despite the different ideological underpinnings characterizing these PFD image-works, I believe a study of their political potentialities entails a rethinking of the “commonly accepted denomination ‘3.11’” which for so- ciologist Christophe Thouny underlines a consensual discourse about “Fukushima Japan.” For Thouny, the consensual logic aims to “cancel the eventfulness of the catastrophe, its possibilities for change and opening, by reinscribing it inside a well-known postwar narrative of reconstruction and development and circumscribing its effects to a limited and closed time and place” (2017, 2) wherein “the eventfulness 3.11” is reduced to “well-known tropes of victimization, resilience, and national reconstruction” (2017, 3). He has thus indicated that to achieve a critique of 3.11, we need to consider how the catastrophe disrupts the teleological narration of postwar Japan, in revealing “its unresolved tensions and contradictions,” and how the site-specific disaster has in fact made visible “the interconnectedness of our present reality and the continuity between places and events on a global scale” (2017, 6).
This book uncovers and explains the ways by which politics is naturalized and denaturalized, and familiarized and de-familiarized through popular media. It explores the tensions between state actors such as censors, politicized and non-politicized audiences, and visual media creators, at various points in the history of Japanese visual media. It offers new research on a wide array of visual media texts including classical narrative cinema, television, documentary film, manga, and animated film. It spans the militarized decades of the 1930s and 1940s, through the Asia Pacific War into the present day, and demonstrates how processes of politicization and depoliticization should be understood as part of wider historical developments including Japans postwar devastation and poverty, subsequent rapid modernization and urbanization, and the aging population and economic struggles of the twenty-first century