Thoughts on Half-Life in Fukushima (Demi-vie à Fukushima 2016)

Mark Olexa and Francesca Scalisi’s documentary Half-Life in Fukushima (Demi-vie à Fukushima 2016) is an hour-long glimpse into the life of Naoto Matsumura, a man of almost sixty years of age who refused to evacuate with his wife and son, instead staying with his elderly father. The film follows him around as he takes care of his livestock and other affairs, and nothing too formally special is needed or deployed: The mere existence of these arresting images of abandoned civilization, often in long takes, is enough to continuously remind us that everything we see is radioactive.

There are, though, two points of interest in the film’s form. It sometimes matches empty visual sights with a busier soundscape; when giving an empty street some hustle and bustle it’s rather unnecessary, but pairing a deserted beach with the panicked voices and screams of evacuating residents results in an emotional wallop.

The other point is a rare symbolic connection between the film’s physical medium and subject matter. You see, the film was shot by Jakob Stark on 35mm. More haunting than Jean-Luc Godard’s use of digital in In Praise of Love (Éloge de l’amour 2001) or Claire Denis’s in High Life (2018), both to denote a different temporality, Half-Life in Fukushima‘s use of actual physical film are, again, a constant reminder that in order to see what we’re seeing, more than just the film stock had to be exposed.

Oh, and there’s an ostrich.

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