March 6, 2020 / 11:39 AM / 24 days ago

Film lauding Japan's Fukushima heroes warns against complacency

TOKYO (Reuters) - As aftershocks rock the Fukushima nuclear plant, a small band of workers defy their bosses to stay on and fight to stop an even bigger disaster from irradiating a wide swathe of Japan.

The scene is from a movie that opened on Friday - “Fukushima 50”, which tells the true story of the hours after a quake and tsunami set off meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi reactors on March 11, 2011.

Almost nine years to the day after that disaster, its depiction of individual heroism in the face of official bungling and overwhelming catastrophe has struck a chord with early viewers.

“I don’t think I’ve ever started crying so quickly during a movie. Partly that’s because I had flashbacks,” said a commenter called “n_n” on Yahoo’s movie review page.

Much has moved in on Japan since Fukushima, the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

Authorities are now fighting another emergency, the spread of the new coronavirus. They are also pressing on with plans for the 2020 Olympics, which is due to kick off with a torch relay starting at Fukushima in three weeks’ time.

But, nine years on, workers in protective suits are still removing radioactive material from Fukushima’s reactors, and the film’s scenes - mixed in with news footage from the time - still pack an emotional punch.

“It sucked me right in within the first 10 minutes. The tension didn’t let up for the rest of the movie, and I was struck by the incompetence of the then-government,” wrote another Yahoo commentator, calling themselves “wan”.

“SURPRISED AND MOVED”

“Nobody in the country knew any of this was going on while it was happening. I was really surprised and moved,” said Yoshinori, a 56-year-old photographer, out for a noon showing of the film in Tokyo with his wife.

“Everybody in Japan should see this,” he added. “I think memories of that disaster are fading. I came to make sure I kept them fresh.”

“The Fukushima Fifty” was the name given to the group of workers and engineers who stayed behind after the tsunami knocked out the power and cooling systems at the plant, run by Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO).

Led by Masao Yoshida - portrayed in the film by Ken Watanabe, one of the stars of “The Last Samurai” and “Letters from Iwo Jima” - they began running seawater into the reactors as an emergency cooling measure.

When their bosses back at TEPCO headquarters ordered them to stop, Yoshida ignored the order - rescinded hours later - and kept going.

He is shown yelling at his bosses during video conferences - scenes that Watanabe said were based on accounts from Yoshida’s colleagues. The engineer died in 2013 from esophageal cancer, aged just 58.

“When I made the film ‘Letters from Iwo Jima,’ I felt that Japan isn’t very good at learning lessons from the past,” Watanabe told a news conference after filming finished last year, referring to the Clint Eastwood film depicting the World War Two battle.

“I feel the same way about Fukushima,” he added.

Editing by Andrew Heavens

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