Chernobyl film hits home in post-Fukushima Japan

TOKYO Fri Oct 28, 2011 11:58am EDT

Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko arrives for the GQ Men of the Year 2010 Awards at the Royal Opera House in London  September 7, 2010.  REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko arrives for the GQ Men of the Year 2010 Awards at the Royal Opera House in London September 7, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Luke MacGregor

TOKYO (Reuters) - The film "Land of Oblivion" may revolve around victims of the Chernobyl disaster a quarter of a century ago, but Japanese audiences will see striking parallels with current-day headlines following the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

Environmental damage, exclusion zones and radiation testing are just some of the images in the film that are redolent of the Fukushima catastrophe, which developed after a series of explosions was set off by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Writer-director Michale Boganim said she had wrapped up shooting and was editing the film when she saw the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant unfolding on television.

"It was very disturbing for me, like a repetition of history," she told the post-screening Q&A session at the Tokyo International Film Festival.

"Land of Oblivion" follows Anya, Olga Kurylenko of "Quantum of Solace," whose life is turned upside down when her firefighter husband Piotr is called away on their wedding day to fight a "forest fire" and does not return.

Plants start wilting and soldiers blockade roads but nobody knows what is happening in Pripyat, a city built for workers at the nearby power plant, until the government acknowledges the nuclear accident a couple of days later and the entire population of 50,000 is evacuated.

Ten years later, the once-idyllic Pripyat is a wasteland of abandoned Soviet apartments overrun with weeds, and Anya and other characters must cope with the trauma of having been forced to leave their homeland.

"I think that was a big trauma for many people, even more than the accident itself," said Boganim, who is primarily a documentary filmmaker but this time chose fiction to focus on the people over the events at the power plant.

The movie, produced by French company Les Films du Poisson, had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival last month.

"We don't see the explosions, it's suggested in the film. I didn't want to show it. I wanted people to feel the sensation of those who experienced Chernobyl. I wanted to show the drama," she said.

STRENGTH OF NATURE

The trauma of lost homeland is very real in Fukushima, where about 80,000 people were forced to evacuate due to the nuclear crisis and don't know when -- or even if -- they will be able to return to their homes within the 20 km (12 mile) exclusion zone.

That has taken a heavy psychological toll, on top of lost jobs, fears of the long-term effects of radiation exposure, and even discrimination.

Boganim, who was born in Israel and studied film in Paris and London, said they shot the second half of the film in the actual exclusion zone of Pripyat, and filmed some interior scenes in houses where Chernobyl workers used to stay.

She said she wanted to show the contrast between nature and the industrial, with Pripyat an ideal location because the power plant had been built near abundant forests in what many people had called one of the most beautiful places in Ukraine.

In one scene, a bus rumbling toward the power plant passes by a sign that declares "We are the builders of our happiness" as darkening skies foreshadow the imminent catastrophe.

Animals sensed the disaster long before people had learned of it, and it is nature and wildlife that have returned first, while Pripyat remains a ghost town to this day.

"In a way, even though this power plant was constructed by human beings, in the end nature was stronger," she said.

The film clearly hit home for at least one Tokyo viewer.

"I thought it felt like our movie," a woman said.

(Editing by Elaine Lies and Idayu Suparto)

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