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Panel 2 | 8:30-11:00 | ROOM A

8:30-11:00 ~ Panel 2 ~ ROOM A

2 - Nuclear Realities and the Semiotics of Disaster: Fukushima in Film, Anime, and Music Videos

Panel abstract

  • Five years have passed since the triple disaster of March 11, 2011, also known as 3.11. In that time, a range of visual media have responded to the crisis by reifying, questioning, and redefining the public understanding of the disaster, the cleanup, the continuing dangers, and the national and local plans for recovery. The three presentations on this panel address the way fiction films, documentary animation, and music videos marshal or critique the images and words—the slogans and discourses—that surround and permeate 3.11. John D. Moore examines the documentary animations produced by the recently-founded studio Fukushima Gainax. The ten shorts that comprise this collection originate in actual letters. Moore investigates the slogan of “light and shadow,” specifically the ways that the former outweighs the latter, and how the referentiality of the letters—that appear as words on the screen—lend authority and authenticity to the positive messages of recovery embedded in this “documentary” medium.  Stephen Murnion explores the range of music videos produced in response to 3.11. From official videos to amateur productions, these videos incorporate but also reject the national slogans—the words that shaped the public discourse on the disaster. His presentation asks how the form of the music video alters or nuances our understanding of its imagistic, musical, and ideological content. Rachel DiNitto delves into the impact of the language of nuclear containment and denial on the lives of women in two fiction films: Land of Hope (Kibō no kuni, 2012) and The Calm Everyday (Odayaka na nichijō, 2012). Her presentation reveals how the visible signs and signification of radiation danger affect the public’s ability to assess their own risk, and alienate and isolate women.

“Documentary Animation and Referentiality in Fukushima Gainax’s Letters to the Future,” John D. Moore, University of Oregon

  • In advance of the five-year anniversary of the March 11, 2011 triple disaster in Japan, the recently-founded studio Fukushima Gainax released Letters to the Future, a program of ten “documentary animation” shorts that claims in its slogan to communicate the “light and shadow” of present conditions in Fukushima. Each short is realized in a different animation style and is premised on an actual “letter,” a brief bit of text that introduces the short, raising questions about the relationship of text and image in the program and how they function in its documentary project. The nonfictional referentiality of Letters to the Future is underpinned by journalistic footage contained in a making-of featurette screened alongside the program. In spite of its “light and shadow” slogan, most of the program’s shorts take on a light, hopeful tone. Only one short adopts a darker tone in both narration and aesthetic, starkly different from the others. But even this episode’s ending gives way to an image of light and, with it, an unproblematic ideal of recovery. Together the words spoken and unspoken and images drawn and undrawn problematically render invisible such issues as the ongoing nuclear radiation concerns that haunt both light and shadow, connecting to the broader political, media, and cultural discursive boundaries that continue to isolate and contain Fukushima.

“3.11 in Music Videos: Image, Sound, Ideology,” Stephen Murnion, University of Oregon

  • This presentation takes up music videos as a representation of the 3.11 disaster, specifically looking at how the confluence of image, music, and words (slogans) is used to comment on the disaster and the public understanding of it. It asks: how does the form of the music video alter or nuance our understanding of its imagistic, musical, and ideological content? The videos range from "official" videos professionally made by record companies (Tower Records’ "I Love You & I Need You Fukushima"), to user-generated videos featuring "official" songs and creative assemblages of readily available images of Tohoku, to amateur musicians recording themselves playing guitar and singing. The familiar “Gambarō Nihon” or “Chin-up Japan” slogan and its ideology are not always mobilized by these music videos. At times, the videos’ creators/musicians resist swallowing the pill of “recovery.” The presentation sets these music videos within a larger field of cultural artifacts produced in response to 3.11, by looking at the interplay of the various discursive elements of the disaster: censorship, victimhood, a crisis of artistic representation, and Tohoku as both internal colony and pristine furusato.

“The Fukushima Fiction Film and the Gendered Discourse of Nuclear Signification,” Rachel DiNitto, University of Oregon

  • This presentation examines two fiction films made in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, Land of Hope (Kibō no kuni, 2012) and The Calm Everyday (Odayaka na nichijō, 2012), for the ways in which they construct the nuclear environment via signifiers that differentiate safe from irradiated zones. The signification, and the public trust or distrust in such signs, forces the characters to make their own risk assessment in the face of unknown dangers. The films mark the irradiated environment through the visible signs of fences, cordoned zones, no entry signs, hazmat suits, masks, and numerical readings on Geiger counters. Yet, the invisible radiation cannot be so easily contained. When radiation invades the everyday, safe spaces, it often does so without visible indicators of its presence. Those characters in the films who are willing to believe the government assurances that the disaster is contained, and that they live in a safe area, do not recognize the dangers that go unmarked. On the other hand, the women in these films who question the ability of these signs to contain the disaster are ostracized and isolated via the terminology of the nuclear. They are labeled “radiophobic” or victims of “paralyzing fatalism,” diagnoses dating back to the Chernobyl disaster. The presentation explores how the language of nuclear containment and denial impacts the lives of the women in these films and comments on the disaster as a whole.

Discussant: Alex Bates, Dickinson U