FILM: Ashes to Honey (2010)

Kamanaka, Hitomi. 2010. Ashes to Honey. Group Gendai.

“What is the best course of development for humankind?” director Hitomi Kamanaka asks in her 2010 film, Ashes to Honey. This documentary builds an argument for the necessity of a sustainable future by portraying a local struggle to preserve fishing and farming on the small island of Iwaishima, on the Pacific side of southwestern Japan, against a nuclear power plant proposed to be built across the bay. Filmed over the course of three years, Kamanaka and her crew gradually gained the trust of the islanders as a voice to adequately represent their concerns to a larger audience. Although completed before the Fukushima disaster, this film helps further historical understandings of ongoing debates related to nuclear power that have swept Japan and much of the world.

The trajectory of the film spans across local, global, and national arenas, and begins with one of the younger residents of Iwaishima, a man in his 30s named Takashi. Like most young residents, he had left the island for higher education. Uniquely, Takashi, who is son to the outspoken representative of the 27-year long struggle against the local power company, Chugoku Denryoku (“Chuden”), had also returned to the island to make his own life: a struggle at best since he began his endeavor with no knowledge of how to live off the land. Through Takashi and Chuden, the film presents its central problematic: both argue that development must take place but each have vastly different ideas about what a path to the future entitles.

The film expands its perspective on this issue by shifting its focus from Iwaishima to rural Sweden. Interviews with people involved in sustainability projects of small and large scales show how national administrators embraced a variety of renewable energy projects implemented by grass-roots efforts, ultimately ushering in a new era for national energy policy. This section serves as a counterpoint to Japan’s policies, which do little to discourage energy market monopolization, and offers a concrete model for the kind of change that Kamanaka advocates.

The emotionally evocative final third of Ashes to Honey depicts the actual practices of protest as the villagers’ fishing boats face off with Chuden’s ships in rain and rough seas. These sequences are especially potent for viewers familiar with Japan’s deep history of non-violent protest, such as the similar actions of the fishing collectives of Ominato against the government’s experimental, nuclear-powered ship the Mutsu. In contrast to the use of violence to resolve differences, Kamanaka’s film nods to the visual style of Tsuchimoto Noriaki’s “Minamata” films and stands as an example to students of how conflict can be politically charged yet non-violent.

Just as it effectively uses Swedish points of view to expand its perspective, educators can use Ashes to Honey to expand students’ perspectives on Fukushima and nuclear power in general. Kamanaka’s documentation of a complicated human story presents a starkly simple choice between two distinct paths of development: one sustainable and one dependent upon nuclear power, with all of the risks that it brings.

Kenneth Masaki Shima

FILM: Nuclear Ginza (1995)

Röhl, Nicholas. 1995. Kakusareta Hibaku Rōdō: Nihon no Genpatsu Rōdōsha. 隠された被曝労働 – 日本の原発労働者 物語 [Nuclear Ginza]. YouTube video, 30 min, posted by “aikoku369”, Mar 30, 2011, from

Nicholas Röhl, a student of Japan’s master director Imamura Shohei, produced this 30-minute documentary in 1995 for Channel 4. The film exposes how Japan’s nuclear energy industry used disadvantaged people in the 1970s and ’80s to carry out highly dangerous manual labor inside their power stations. The story follows the photojournalist/ anti-nuclear activist Kenji Higuchi as he exposes the exploitation of the “untouchables” who were pulled out of the slums of Tokyo and Osaka in order to work while exposed to radiation, often without their knowledge. Referring to the tacit cooperation and close ties between the Japanese government and the country’s nuclear industry, a man notes in one scene that “democracy has been destroyed where nuclear power stations exist.” The film shows how Japan, having suffered nuclear attacks in the past, remarkably transformed itself within a few decades into one of the most “nuclearized” nations worldwide. This documentary film has special significance in the light of the recent Fukushima nuclear crisis, in which media reports about the exploitation of unskilled laborers in the plant spawned a major controversy.
Christian Dimmer

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FILM: A Is For Atom (1992)

Curtis, Adam. 1992. A is for Atom, Google video, 45:51 min, accessed Apr 24, 2011, from

The British 45-minute documentary A Is For Atom was named after the 1953 animated short of the ‘Atoms for peace’ campaign with the same title. The final installment of a BBC-2 series about politics and science, called Pandora’s Box, the film tells the story of the development of peaceful nuclear technologies in the United States, Britain and Russia, and how political and business forces of the time contributed to these transformation. In order to make the production of nuclear power plants profitable, for example, private corporations like Westinghouse and General Electric pushed for the construction of bigger plants in order to utilize economies of scale. However, with growing reactor sizes, safe operation could no longer be fully guaranteed. The film shows that despite repeated warnings by senior scientists from the Atomic Energy Commission  and the industry itself, the corporations succeeded in avoiding costly changes to the plant design. In the Soviet Union, on the other hand, political pressure for a rapid electrification of the country coupled with an insufficient budget resulted in inferior reactor designs, which ultimately culminated in the Chernobyl disaster. One of the most unsettling scenes of the film unfurls as AEC scientists state as early as 1964 that “we have found in our present study nothing. . . which guarantees either that major reactor accidents will not occur or that protective safeguard systems will not fail. Should such accidents occur very large damages could result.”  What they refer to are evocative of the problematic design issues of the very type of nuclear reactor that would be used later in the Fukushima No.1 plant that came into operation in 1971.
Christian Dimmer

A 10 minutes longer version of this documentary is available on the blog of director Adam Curtis

FILM: Cold War Scenarios For Introducing Nuclear Energy To Japan (1995)

NHK. 1995. Genpatsu Dōnyū Shinario  Reisenka no Tainichi Genshiryoku Senryaku 原発導入シナリオ ~冷戦下の対日原子力戦略 [Cold War Scenarios for Introducing Nuclear Energy to Japan]. YouTube video, 45 min, posted by “naga2218,” Mar 27, 2011,

This NHK documentary tries to shed light on how Japan, the only nation in the world that experienced a nuclear attack, came to readily embrace a plan to generate energy using nuclear power during peacetime. As seen in earlier posts on this site, a strong anti-nuclear sentiment prevailed in the early post-war years, which peaked in 1954 after the crew of the fishing trawler Lucky Dragon No.5 was exposed to the nuclear fallout of American hydrogen bomb tests at Bikini Atoll. The film describes a process in which the president of the Yomiuri newspaper company, Matsutarō Shōriki, and the United States Information Service collaborated during the 1950s in order to overturn public anti-nuclear sentiment and to introduce the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The producers of the film seem to suggest that the introduction of plans for nuclear power generation to Japan was part of a Cold War strategy of the United States; critically underplayed are domestic political debates and foreign policy. –Akiko Ishii & Christian Dimmer

Please contact Akiko Ishii (akiko47 [at] to work on a collaboration to make English subtitles for this film for educational purposes.

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