March 11, 2011, off the coast of the Tōhoku region of the Japanese main island, an undersea earthquake measuring 9.1 on the Richter scale hit the region. The damage incurred by the Tōhoku region was cataclysmic but it would take the arrival of the mega-tsunami that followed the earthquake which would show the rest of the world the horror the people of Japan were experiencing first-hand that fateful day on March 11, 2011.
Documentary filmmaker Lucy Walker was already set to film a documentary short about the cultural importance of the cherry blossom to the Japanese people, but the disaster which struck on March 11 changed the overall theme of her documentary short. The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossomwould still look at the importance of the cherry blossom to the Japanese nation, but now it also would signify how this simple, but beautiful flower now begins the healing process for those affected by the earthquake and the tsunami and how it helped solidified the nation.
The film doesn’t try to make the scenes of disaster as it happened and the aftermath become exploitative. Walker does a great job of just letting the landscape of devastation speak for itself the reality and existential horror of the event and how it has affected the nation of Japan. Even the typical interviews of the survivors during the film comes off as something cathartic and healing even as the first-hand accounts from the subjects being interviewed and film brings about emotions of heartbreak and extreme sorrow.
Yet, the film does show the resiliency of the Japanese people in the face of cataclysm and its aftermath through their shared love and admiration for that simple cherry blossom that’s become so intertwined with the Japanese culture. A flower of such simple beauty yet one that doesn’t live for long that helps inform outsiders how the fatalistic attitude that Westerners see as inherent in Japanese culture is really a misunderstanding. Just like the cherry blossom the Japanese people see the impermanence of life as something beautiful, to be cherished and lived to its fullest. The film shows just how even in the aftermath of this disaster the nation of Japan still looks at the resiliency of the cherry blossom to survive and grow in a land of waste and debris as a sign that the survivors must now give up.
“The plants are hanging in there, so us humans better do it too.”
This simple observation from a survivor looking to do his part in rebuilding the affected region best exemplifies the ideas in this film. As someone who has admired the culture and people of Japan this film by Lucy Walker helps in showing that even in the face of tragedy that boggles the mind the capacity of the human spirit to persevere exists.
The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossomis a film that should be more readily available for everyone to watch, but unfortunately has only made the film festival circuits and the too little airings on HBO. So, if this film ever airs on HBO and/or makes its rounds to where one lives I highly recommend they watch it.