It’s just over five years since the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in the Pacific Ocean that led to the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan. It’s almost become a catchphrase, like Chernobyl. We know something nuclear happened, but the details are beginning to fade, as is our interest in what came next. What directors Mark Olexa and Francesca Scalisi have done in Half-Life in Fukushima is remind us that nuclear accidents are not the wasteland you might think (horror movies aside), but a waiting game.

Sometimes people aren’t willing to wait.

The documentary follows Naoto, a man who lived Okuma (the town itself), who is trying to rebuild a life for himself when so much of what was part of his life will be radioactive for many years to come. He is allowed to return to the area during the day, at his own risk of course. He checks on his cows, his ostrich, and takes care of his father. The town itself has very few residents with construction/demolition going on to attempt to remediate the radiation problems.

Half-Life in Fukushima doesn’t address the science of the radiation or the risks Naoto is taking by returning, which would be interesting, but unnecessary to this particular story. What they’re trying to do is demonstrate that the town isn’t gone. It isn’t dying, it didn’t explode into oblivion; it’s resting, returning to a more natural state. The post-apocalyptic feel of the town is emphasized when we see Naoto hit golf balls to an empty field, and sing karaoke on his own. The town isn’t dead, but with no one around, it isn’t really alive either. I was fascinated and wanted to know so much more, but the film reminds us that it’s not time for that…yet.

Wednesday, May 4, 10:30 AM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Sunday, May 8, 10:15 AM, TIFF Bell Lightbox

Tickets can be purchased at the Hot Docs website.