Son of Saichi

Digging to Argentina

Beth Balaban with our wonderful translator Marion and Hidekazu, Saichi's son.  We're all proud of our plate collection!

A few things I’ve enjoyed learning on this trip – outside of our filming: 1. Argentina is where Japanese kids dig to in the sandbox. Yuki (our pet for the past two weeks) is anxious to get to South America, too. 2. In Japan – where being the eldest is such a point of honor – the ranking in twin births is interesting. The first baby born is considered the youngest. The baby born second is the oldest. While filming SON OF SAICHI, we met Saichi’s great-grandaughters – twins Miu and Reika. Their mom tells us that even though Reika was born a few minutes after Miu, she is considered the eldest. 3. Sushi-go-rounds are about as much fun as you can have at a restaurant. An eating frenzy akin to tossing chum to sharks. And cheap. Every plate is 100 yen (108 with tax) – that’s one dollar. Not… LEARN MORE


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


My Old Country Home

Today – on the second anniversary of the Fukushima disaster – we remember the country and people of Japan – especially our friends in Yamakiya who have opened their homes and hearts to us and our cameras. In their honor Dir. Beth Murphy contributed this piece to Huffington Post.


The Family Altar

An ancestral altar where the living pay respects to the dead and appreciate the unity of all the ancestors, and the importance of family lineage.

Tsugiko Ouchi is 87-years-old, yet giggles like a school girl as she hands us a worn copy of a newspaper article. There she is in the accompanying picture, kissing her husband, Saichi, a survivor of both Hiroshima and the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. “I was visiting him in the nursing home,” she tells us, “and as I was getting ready to leave, he looked so sad. So I asked him for a kiss.” Such displays of public affection are rare here, and even more so among the elderly. When you’re in Tsugiko’s presence, she is perpetually making and serving green tea. A silver cylinder with a tiny knob on top holds the leaves which she extracts with a small matching scoop to top off a mesh strainer. She stands as she does this, and the slight age curvature of her back is pronounced in this position. Slowly, she lowers… LEARN MORE


Filming “Son of Saichi”

Hidekazu, the son of two-time nuclear radiation survivor Saichi, works with a student human rights group to study the environmental impact of the Fukushima disaster.

SON OF SAICHI (pronounced Sah-ee-chee) is the working title of our new film – a Principle Pictures short – and the reason Beth Balaban and I are heading to Fukushima, Japan today. We are trying to understand what it means to reconsider a life, reconceive catastrophe and imagine a future. Our story focuses on the Ouchi family, affected in unimaginable ways by nuclear radiation. Sixty years ago, when the first atomic weapons were dropped on Japan, Saichi Ouchi was a military medic in Hiroshima. After World War II, he returned to Kawamata, the fertile land of his youth, where he took over the family rice farm with his wife, Tsugiko. When the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant was commissioned 60 miles away in 1971, they were too busy raising 4 children to give it much thought. Saichi’s family didn’t want to move him into a nursing home two years ago, but… LEARN MORE