documentary

The 49th Day

Hidekazu with the "ihais" - spirit tablets - of his brother and father. Written on the tablets are there holy names.  These tablets are kept at the family altar inside the home.

“This is a very important day for sending his spirit on… for sending him on to the next world,” says Tsugiko Ouchi as she prepares what she will wear to today’s memorial service. Her husband, Hiroshima survivor Saichi, died forty-nine days ago, and in the Buddhist tradition, this is the day his spirit will transition to its new life.

Like everything in life now – the post-evacuation life – events big and small become reminders of what has been lost. After spending 20 minutes rifling through everything in her bedroom drawers and carefully separating her dry cleaning, Tsugiko realizes she’s missing her best black kimono – the very thing she wants to wear to today’s service. The kimono, her son tells her, is back home in Yamakiya hanging in a close that seems frozen in time since they were forced to leave after the nuclear disaster. Learn More…


Beware of the Giant Hornet

A worker carries radioactive-contaminated branches from the forest in Yamakiya, one of the forced evacuation sites.

Yamakiya, Japan – Forced Evacuation Zone

[This] risky, back-breaking, mind-numbingly slow work… involves being tethered to a tree while worrying about whether the Japanese giant hornet will strike. And there’s good reason to fear…Learn More…


Anti-Nuke Undies

It costs $875 to add 7.5lbs of lead to your booty.

Iizaka Village in Kawamata Town in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan

Current top ranking for most ridiculous conversation goes to:
Me: “We need anti-radioactive underwear.”
Balaban: “Do they sell that at the hardware store?”

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Ring of Fire

Our earthquakes are the orange and yellow ones.

10th Floor, Toyoko Inn, Fukushima City

There are lots of fun reasons for a bed to be rattling in the middle of the night. But an earthquake isn’t one of them. The first quake hits at 3:20am. It’s a 5.7 magnitude off the coast of Ibaraki Prefecture, and feels like a ride on a coin-operated horse at the grocery store. Within ten seconds it’s over.

The second quake two hours later is slightly weaker – 5.6 magnitude – but closer. About twenty miles away right off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture. Fear strikes in a waiting-for-the-ceiling-to-crash-down kind of way. I stand paralyzed in the middle of my tiny hotel room with one overarching thought, “I do not want to die in the Japanese equivalent of a Holiday Inn.” Learn More…


The Smell of Cabotage in the Morning

The offending itinerary.

Logan Airport, 4:30am “You may be alright,” Chris, the Air Canada ticket agent tells us. “But it’s risky. That’s flying too close to the sun for me.” And so begins Friday the 13th, and our trip to Japan to film SON OF SAICHI. We’ve been accused – more accurately our travel agent has been accused – of cabotage. It’s illegal. And it means we’re grounded. Google cabotage and you’ll find a Wikipedia entry that highlights our exact situation: Cabotage situations can occur as a consequence of hub-and-spoke operations. Consider that Air Canada has a major hub at Toronto that offers flights to several U.S. cities. While a passenger is able to buy a ticket from Boston to Toronto, and a separate ticket from Toronto to Seattle [in our case Minneapolis] that same day, both flights cannot be offered on the same itinerary because this would effectively be a U.S. domestic… LEARN MORE


Afghan Journal 1

Kabul Arrival

We arrived in Afghanistan yesterday after a 38 hour journey from Addis Ababa. Our travel agent received this report (in part): Hi Allison, I’m sorry to report that we had a major problem during our travel. The suggested itinerary – which we booked – of arrival in Dubai at 3am and departure for Kabul at 4:20am was an absolute impossibility. No way that can be done, and it should never be proposed to any future travelers…. There were serious carry-on weight restrictions in Dubai, and our four personal bags (a knapsack and camera bag each) had to be cut down to two. As these bags carried our laptops/remote editing stations, camera equipment, external hard drives, still cameras and lenses, it was difficult to decide what or how to part with any of it. Maybe we should have taken the tact of the overbearing Saudi man who when ordered to hand… LEARN MORE


THE LIST’s Kirk Johnson Writes Book

To_Be_a_Friend_small

Kirk Johnson’s new book, “To Be a Friend Is Fatal: A Story from the Aftermath of America at War,” tells the story of The List Project and the Iraqis who stepped forward to help the United States. The book is being published by Scriber and will hit bookshelves in July 2013