It’s been two and a half years since a massive tsunami on the northern coast of Japan triggered a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and we’re still coming to terms with the extent of the environmental damage.
In April 2012, filmmaker Ian MacKenzie and yoga/Buddhist teacher/activist Michael Stone went on a pilgrimage to Japan to learn how the Japanese are responding to the crisis. Stone spoke with local residents, artists, activists, and researchers about life in the aftermath and reflects on the old Zen traditions and cities of beautiful temples. MacKenzie caught everything on film.
The result is Reactor, a short film that aims to “uncover how and why we can let go of old stories, and move towards personal and social awakening by bringing to light our interconnectedness and showing us that our actions matter.”
Ian MacKenzie answered a few questions about the intention and vision behind the film.
My main question for you after watching Reactor: Why Fukushima? Why did you and Michael choose to go to Japan to illustrate this interconnection, especially when there are so many environmental disasters on North American soil? Why, for example, didn’t you make a pilgrimage to the Tar Sands of northern Alberta?
In 2010, I shot at the Alberta tar sands for my previous project Occupy Love (directed by Velcrow Ripper). The impact of flying over the destruction, and seeing the absolute carnage was emotionally devastating. When Michael invited me to Japan, I agreed because I wanted to see how other cultures were grappling with the same tension between the thirst for energy and the impact of generating it. These scenarios are repeating themselves all over the world.
The modern dominant culture is not new in nature, only new in scope, having grown to encircle most of the planet. It is a culture that has no landing gear. Our task is to find a new way forward: first, by being able to see clearly, and then, to choose a more skillful and life-affirming way of being in the world. We do not need more technology, more ideas, or more programs. As Michael shows in the film, we need a willingness to accept that the world is both stunning and tragic at the same time. We need the strength to continue with a broken heart.
How did you and Michael Stone end up collaborating?
I began following Michael’s work after attending his workshop at the Vancouver Yoga Conference in 2010. After the Occupy Wall St movement broke out in 2011, I interviewed Michael during his visit to the Vancouver encampment, which become the short film “Love & Shadow.”
After seeing the film, Michael invited me to accompany him on his pilgrimage to Japan. He already had plans to visit Kyoto, spending time walking in the footsteps of the great Japanese Zen poets and meditating in the ancient temples. He also planned to learn how the Japanese were responding to the tsunami and Fukushima crisis. We didn’t know exactly what the film would become, though I knew intuitively when Michael asked that my answer was ‘yes.’
There’s a Zen concept of “beginner’s mind” – which is where you strive to see the world without preconceived notions about what it is or should be. That’s how Michael and I approached the situation and making this film. Every documentary is different. For me, this was a first in many ways: my first time shooting in Japan and my first time shooting interviews in a language foreign to me. As for the situation itself, I learned how the issue is complex and far from black and white.
For starters, I wondered how the Japanese would appreciate foreigners coming in and probing for information. Would they consider us meddling in their affairs? Would they appreciate our sincere interest in learning from their response? We found both ends of the spectrum – some Japanese were hesitant to speak at all, while others appreciated the opportunity to finally speak out about against the impact of the meltdown and the governments attempts to ignore the severity of damage.
One of the aims of Reactor is to give us reason to reflect on how our actions matter – how does the film encourage this?
When you listen to the different perspectives shared in the film, you realize how each person is contributing in the best way they can. Reverend Takafumi teaches meditation and mindfulness to the community, stressing the need for the Japanese to reinvent themselves away from nuclear dependence. Dr. Imanaka continues monitoring from the front lines of the radiation fallout, speaking out against the poor decisions of authorities. And Keiko Oguro offers her compassion to the nuclear refugees, having survived the Hiroshima nuclear bombing of 1945. Perhaps illustrator Hamamaru Fujii says it best: we often think that every one of us needs to “save the world” with grand heroic acts, which can paralyze us. Instead, consider that we all have something to offer, no matter how “small” – we can all put our innate gifts in service to the world. That’s what I’m try to do with my film, and Michael with his teaching.
Watch the trailer for Reactor below and stream the whole film here (for rent or purchase).