Film

'The Sketch of Mujō (Mujou sobyou)': Impressions of Surviving a Tsunami

Rather than the sensational footage of Japan's recent earthquake tsunami that filled long minutes on CNN, Koichi Omiya's documentary offers images after the event, impressions of survival.


The Sketch of Mujō (Mujou sobyou)

Director: Koichi Omiya
Rated: NR
Studio: Omiya Visual Image Production
Year: 2011
US date: 2011-10-25 (Dialogue of Cultures Film Festival)
Website
Trailer

"I lost my friends and relatives," says a woman wearing a surgical mask. "There will be cremations soon. I feel almost numb. Something is wrong with me. I'm basically fine, though." As she speaks, the camera holds more or less steady on her face, which betrays she is feeling anything but numb. "I have to rev myself up and keep on," she goes on, closing her eyes as if to pace herself. "For a while, there was no TV, but now we're getting it back. While there was no TV, there was no way for us to see what it was like. Now that I can see it on TV, I feel kind of vulnerable."

You don't see what she might have see on TV in The Sketch of Mujō (Mujou sobyou). Rather than the sensational footage that filled long minutes on NHK or CNN or the and BBC, Koichi Omiya's documentary offers images after the event, impressions of survival. Filmed from 28 April through 4 May, it features workers sorting through debris and long tracking shots of debris, interviewees who show their homes in shambles and wonder about what to do next.

Screening 25 October as part of the Dialogue of Cultures Film Festival in New York, the documentary conveys both loss and resilience. Walking through her wrecked house, a woman sorts through family photos she's recovered. Though her parents and grandparents have worked on this coast for generations, she says, her view of life is now changed forever. "My children no longer fish," she notes, "So I was thinking of moving away because disasters like this may happen again." Her daughter appears nearby, a mask covering her mouth as she speaks. "When the sun shines on it, the sea just looks gorgeous," she says, "And the fish!" But as much as she once loved to "jog by the sea," her perspective is changed too, a point the film doesn’t need to underline.

Instead, it cuts to an interview with a monk, seated inside his temple as he observes, "When nature turns savage, they regard it as a divine force. The gods may rage at times. We are left to wonder what is behind this divine rage." Rather than explaining "nature," he observes people's responses to it. He's not describing cause and effect, or even reflecting on "divine rage," but considering how the notion of the divine serves the communities who believe in it.

The film returns to the monk for other observations as well, including a brief definition of the concept "mujō," that is, "nothing stays the same," or again, to describe another disaster he saw in Laos, when a bridge was destroyed: Laotians, he summarizes, are "very philosophical about their bridges," building them of bamboo, as opposed to perfecting technologies that might make them withstand a flood. "They know nothing stays the same," he says, "Their bridges get destroyed, they don’t grieve over them."

As a sketch of "mujō," the film keeps a distance that suggests intimacy, but also respect. Repeatedly, you see objects -- cars and boats slammed into one another, a plastic horse, muddied photos -- and figures, workers in coveralls or kids playing along sidewalks lined with debris. The camera is close on a fisherman as he sifts through remains, observing that the damage extends beyond his own broken boat: the dam for the nearby Oya Mine was destroyed by the earthquake, he says, and "mineral poison flowed out to sea." It’s a deadly poison, he assesses, "just like the nuclear power plant." A moment later, he discloses that his grandson is in college in Yamagata and will be "working" next year, that is, there will be no more fishermen in the family. Thus, in one shot, steady on the old man as he thinks back and ahead, the scene indicates both an utterly personal story and one that extends across generations.

Another elderly survivor is discovered by the filmmaker in the car where she's been staying with her family. "I'm sorry for being the way I am, I am just so…" she says. "I can't help it, but I am so old, almost 100." As you might wonder what she's seen in those many years of living, her image is overlaid by another woman's voice, perhaps her daughter's, describing what happened during the tsunami ("She got agitated and started clapping her hands"). A few scenes later, the older woman is quiet, actually sleeping. The camera pulls out slowly from a tight shot of her face, as a sound of something that sounds like static is all you hear. Within a few seconds, you see where she's sleeping, on the car's back seat: she looks so peaceful and still. The sound may be rain.

The film's impressions aren't so much poetic as precise. A farmer makes his way through what's left of his facility, pointing to a machine for which he recently paid two million yen. "We won't be able to use this for planting the paddies anymore," he says, then adds that he's been visited by "people saying they'll clear stuff, charging 10,000 yen to take this away." He sighs, "Of course I refused," which means he's left with junk on land that he can't farm. He leads the film crew through his home, which is standing, if chaotic. "I've heard it's much, much worse elsewhere," he says, the camera panning over furniture in heaps. "I am luckier than some," he says, "At least I can try to sort this out."

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Music

Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.

Music

IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.

Music

Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.

Film

NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.

Music

The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.