Documentary recounts musicians’ recovery from Fukushima disaster

On the evening of Friday, April 15, the Tomson auditorium was filled with individuals taking time away from the 70-degree weather to watch a screening of the award winning documentary, Threshold: Whispers of Fukushima. A Q&A session with the film’s director, Toko Shiiki, and composer, Erik Santos followed the screening.

Shiiki and Santos began working on the documentary after the 2011 tsunami and Fukushima nuclear power disaster. It was as an effort for Shiiki, who had moved away from Japan to study in America, to connect with her homeland and help the individuals of the area in anyway possible. After her departure from Japan to study in America, Shiiki felt distanced from her country and gradually began to think of Japan as a place she did not even know anymore.

“I decided to do this project. I thought this would allow me to reach out to actual people on a different level, and I could share the stories with others,” Shiiki wrote in an essay about her film. “Then actually, I could hear not just the stories of disasters, but also their life, their wisdom, and their music, which was a surprising gift for me.”

Shiiki began to visit Fukushima before filming to grasp what was going on within the communities and listened to the individuals’ voices in the area. She discovered that the people there were hesitant to talk to film makers – as many had come and told sensationalized stories of Fukushima.

However, by listening and taking time to experience other people’s situations, Shiiki was able to learn that the people of Fukushima were just trying to rebuild their lives together and were, in fact, thinking of the future.

The documentary is Shiiki’s first feature length film and it has been screened throughout the globe. Her husband, Erik Santos – a Chair of Composition faculty at the University of Michigan – was an active member of the film’s production. He also composed all of the music in the film with the help of local artists. The film highlighted several musicians in the Fukushima area and used them to tell the story of how individuals of Fukushima are using outlets such as music to move past the nuclear disaster of 2011.

“Perhaps this is not even really a movie about ‘Fukushima.’ Even if she shot it in Fukushima, the theme of the film is not ‘the accident’ nor ‘lost homes,’ rather, it is a fundamental human theme: ‘what is living one’s own life?’” author and cast member Yoshimitsu Takuki wrote about the film.

“Each individual has their own purpose in life … everyone is different from each other. Therefore, no one can truly say, ‘my way of living is right or yours is wrong,’”

he said.