Junko Kajino and Edward Koziarski started their filmmaking relationship on a set in Ohio when they were both undergrads, and they’ve been making films together ever since. They’ve worked together on Malik Bader’s fake burglar documentary Street Thief. They wrote, produced and directed the psychological drama The First Breath of Tengan Rei; about an Okinawan woman who kidnaps the teenage son of a former U.S. Marine who was convicted of raping her when she was a girl; and the short film Homesick Blues, about a girl spending her last days in Osaka before she runs away to America to become a blues singer. The pair are interested in stories of cultural collisions and the perspectives of outsiders and underdogs.
Meanwhile, the greatest tsunami and radioactive disaster in Fukushima happened in March 2011 and the results were very obvious – Japanese land and air were highly radioactive, and the rumours say that traces of the spills quickly made the coast of the Unites States. Ed and Junko on the other hand, took the challenge to make Uncanny Terrain, a film about the radiation with stories of Fukushima farmers and how they deal with it.
How did you come up with the idea of making a documentary, and why did you think that it was important?
Ed Koziarski: We were writing a screenplay inspired by Junko’s childhood on a cattle farm in Nagano, in central Japan, when Japan was struck by the triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown in March 2011. We decided to shift our focus to tell the true story of unfolding events. Instead of the crisis reporting that dominated media coverage in the initial aftermath, we wanted to find stories of hope and resilience. We were drawn to the blogs of several Fukushima organic farmers that Junko had been following as research for the screenplay. Their determination to stay on their contaminated land and continuing trying to cultivate organic food—despite the tremendous physical, economic, and social challenges—fascinated us.
Junko Kajino: When the 2011 disaster happened, the news I heard and images I saw from the news were just devastating. I felt the end of the world, especially the Fukushima nuclear power plant exploded. Just like most of the Japanese people, I was always afraid of radiation from our history of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The aftermath of the atomic bombs that we learned gave me nightmares for long time. The Fukushima Daiicihi plant’s melt down gave me strong fear and lost hope in my own country till I found some farmer’s blogs. Some active framers were trying to decontaminate their contaminated land in Fukushima organically. I could not believe that they can do that and even they could keep farming without getting sick. But I wanted to believe that they can do this. Only way to find out is to go there and record how they do. That’s how we came up making this documentary.
How did you come up with the funding? Do you feel that people are interested in supporting you?
Ed Koziarski: Once we decided to make the film, we jumped in very quickly, raising the several thousand dollars to buy a basic camera and sound package and fly to Japan, and we’ve continued raising money to cover our costs as we went along. We’ve done crowdfunding campaigns on IndieGoGo in the U.S. and Motion Gallery in Japan and we continue to collect tax-deductible online donations through our web site http://uncannyterrain.com Hundreds of supporters, most of them strangers, have shown their confidence in the importance of this story by offering their contributions. We’ve also earned a few grants, generated income through speaking engagements, and subsidized the project with our freelance video work, and we continue to seek funding to complete the film.
What are your most unique experiences while filming?
Ed Koziarski: One of our subjects is a cattle farmer named Yoshizawa with a ranch 10 kilometers from the failed Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, inside the mandatory evacuation zone. He resisted a government order to kill the cows and has kept them alive as a form of protest, not wanting their lives to go to waste. He had a permit to enter the evacuation zone to care for them but at the time there was tight control on media entering the zone. On a sweltering day in July 2011, Yoshizawa offered to bring us in with his cattle feed under a tarp in the back of his truck. We rode in this ghastly blue light, surrounded by big sweltering sack of bean sprouts whose funk intensified as we passed through checkpoints into the eerily serene evacuation zone. We went in wearing cheap plastic rain suits to protect ourselves from the radiation, but decided the heat was a more immediate threat than the radiation, and filmed the ranch in our regular clothes.
Junko Kajino: The Fukushima peach is one of the precious and expensive fruits in Japan that if you are lucky you can eat one slice and feel so rich. The first year in 2011 we stayed in Fukushima, which is Fukushima food, and might have been most contaminated. Sadly Fukushima peach is one of the fruits that had huge reputation of contamination at that time. That year, we ate so many of them. We had 2 to 3 peaches a day for every day until we left. Many farmers gave us boxes of them, since no markets and food distributer want them. One person stopped by our apartment and dropped off the dozens of peaches, and the same day we went to meet another person, he/she had dozens of peaches for us to take home. Our small apartment was full of peaches for months. I thought we were so lucky in a complicated way.
How far have you been inside the radioactive zone? Did you ever have to eat radioactive food?
Ed Koziarski: In 2013 we got within 5 kilometers of Fukushima Daiichi, this time legitimately, accompanied by another farmer from the area, after entry restrictions had been relaxed. We started out very rigorous about wearing protective gear and I personally was afraid of eating locally grown produce. We were living with farmers there for months at a time. We made the decision to live how they lived and ate how they ate. As the months progressed, increasingly sensitive food testing equipment grew more widely available. These days nearly everything grown in Fukushima is tested and most of it shows no detectible radiation, for a variety of reasons involving soil composition, farming methods, the absorption rates of various plants, etc. There a big exceptions to this, most commonly wild plants and the animals that eat them and we’ve generally avoided those. I’m sure we’ve eaten some things that slipped through the cracks from time to time. That’s probably not our largest source of exposure, though—it’s more likely to come from walking on the street, as radioactive cesium that rained down in the days after the meltdown bonded with the pavement and continues to be a source of external exposure. As someone visiting for comparatively brief periods of time, I am not very worried about my own health risk from Fukushima radiation (the effect on long-term residents is a greater concern and the extent of health impacts will be seen in the coming years). It’s one of multiple forms of industrial pollution we are constantly bombarded with in the modern world. We should all work to reduce those pollution sources but we’ve made the choice not to live in fear of them, and to try to improve our diets and exercise regimens in other ways to mitigate the risk. I am more confident buying a piece of produce from a Fukushima organic farmer than from an American supermarket. I have seen the care these farmers put into producing their food, and I have tasted the delicious results: the peaches, eggplants, grapes, pepper, tomatoes, rice, and so on, are like nothing I’ve tasted elsewhere.
What are the reactions of the people that you meet? Do they ask for help, and what are their messages?
Ed Koziarski: The farmers that we are following are consummately self-relient. They don’t want handouts. They want the right to continue their livelihoods, support their families, and keep their traditional communities and ways of life alive. They believe in the food they grow and they are fighting to restore public confidence, and to find new ways of adding value and connect with the public to offset the ongoing economic devastation they face. They are proud of their simple, natural lifestyles and they want their choices to be respected. They want the world to learn from the nuclear crisis but the lessons of the disaster are more complex than they first appear.
Junko Kajino: The people we met in Fukushima usually offer to help us. They asked us to take some fresh food that they grow. They are mostly farmers who stayed in the Fukushima and keep sustaining their farm life. So they have “rich” life in terms of independent of having enough food, place to stay and community to help each other. Even people that had to evacuated their place, they gave us food, ride and introducing cool places that we need to see. What they asked us was always “Please, tell the world about us”. Also, during the spring and summer of 2011, we had a high quality Geiger counter all the time, almost everyday. So, when we met them to film, they first asked us to measure the radioactivity on their land, house and even food.
Does the TEPCO plant have any way of dealing with the spills?
Ed Koziarski: TEPCO is working constantly to prevent exposed spent fuel rods at Fukushima Daiichi from overheating and leading to another massive release as happened in 2011. Unfortunately to keep the rods cool they pump a steady supply of water through the plant and release that contaminated water into the ocean. I don’t have the expertise to say what a better method would be of handling the situation. But it’s clear to me that TEPCO did not have adequate plans for handling a natural disaster, and I am not confident that nuclear plant operators anywhere in the world are necessarily any better prepared for the next one.
When do you think your film will be finished and what are your distribution plans?
Ed Koziarski: We plan to finish the film this year and screen across a variety of international platforms including festivals, theatrical, educational and broadcast. We are happy to talk with interested readers about opportunities to set up a screening in their area.
What can we do to help Fukushima’s environment?
Ed Koziarski: I’m sure the best way to answer that. I’m hopeful about a number of methods that seek to facilitate natural processes to decontaminate food, land and water but it may be too early to say conclusively which methods are most effective. The contamination will be there in some form for decades, no matter what we do. I think it’s important for people to focus on reducing all forms of industrial pollution in their own communities, and building food and energy systems that are more ecologically, socially, and economically sustainable. If people are really interested in Fukushima I encourage them to visit and meet local people and see it for themselves and then come to a conclusion about how they can best get involved.
What is your message to our readers?
Ed Koziarski: Get involved with your own food supply. Grow some food. Get to know the people who grow your food and how they do it. Do something to be a little friendlier to the land. Question your assumptions. Support conservation and sustainable energy. Drop us a line.