Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

1 Nomination, Wins TBD

Nomination: Best Documentary, Short Subjects - Lucy Walker and Kira Carstensen

When I first moved to Washington, D.C. almost four years ago, I was unaware of the significance of the cherry blossom tree to the city. I was vaguely aware of their existence, but did not recognize the level of importance the cherry blossoms play in the city's identity. The trees came from Japan as a gift in 1912 to recognize the friendship between the two nations, with even more coming in 1965. Each year there is a festival held in Washington to celebrate the blooming of the trees, attracting over 700,000 visitors to D.C. each year.

Yet the importance of the cherry blossom trees is dwarfed by the role they play in Japan, especially in the Miyagi Prefecture, and that significance is the subject of Lucy Walker's beautiful short film "The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom." The Miyagi Prefecture was where the tsunami caused by the March 11, 2011 earthquake off the coast of Japan hit land. At its impact point in Miyagi, the tsunami was over ten meters in height, and the amount of damage it caused cannot be overstated. Walker's film begins with an amateur video shot as the tsunami hit land, and the word harrowing does not even begin to describe the video. The water continues to rush further and further inland, against all logic, annihilating everything it rushes over.

The footage is terrifying, and when it is over, Walker looks at what has happened to the region now that the water has receded. Interviews with survivors of the tsunami, images of what the region looks like now, and scenes of the cleanup combine to show just how significant the damage of the tsunami has been. The amount of perspective shown by the film would be impressive under any circumstances, but is all the more remarkable considering that the film was released less than a year after the tsunami.

Yet as expertly as the film shows the effects of the tsunami, this is not what the film is about. Instead, it is about the rebirth of the region, as symbolized by the cherry blossom. The film takes a meditative, poetic look at the cherry blossom and what it represents, framing the rebuilding of the prefecture through the lifecycle of the cherry blossom. This sounds a little hokey, but I assure you it is not. The film's opening footage gives it a grounding, so there is enough of a foundation to support the film when it takes on a more allegorical look at the recovery.

Short documentaries focusing on the aftermath of a destructive event are nothing new; almost every year the Academy nominates at least one. This film's novel approach to the subject is what makes it unique and special, and the film shows hope in what seems like a hopeless situation. Lucy Walker has been one of the most talented documentarians of the last decade, making such standouts as Waste Land and Devil's Playground. I hope she returns to the documentary short form, as she has a strong voice and talent for the form.

Remaining: 3170 films, 868 Oscars, 5448 nominations

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