Fukushima 50  – ★★★

Fukushima 50 – ★★★

While Fukushima 50 comes from a more fact-based background, it can pinpoint how close Japan was to total disaster and how a small group of plant workers became heroes. An emotionally rewarding film of heroism.

11 March 2011. When a 9.0 magnitude earthquake causes a colossal Tsunami, workers at the Fukushima nuclear facility in Japan risk their lives and stay at the power plant to prevent destruction. Plant manager Yoshida (Ken Watanabe) and his team try everything to contain the leak. Nearly an hour after the quake, the plant suffers a power outage, causing the power-operated cooling systems to fail. Although the workers initially try to run the plant on car batteries, they eventually risk their lives to get closer to the reactors and work manually to prevent the plant from overheating. This is their incredible tale.

Fukushima does not waste time; we start right away with the earthquake that causes all of the plant’s failures, and from then on, we are foot down on the pedal going hard as this disaster gets decidedly worse for everyone involved. This is a refreshing change of pace for such films as, usually, we spend 10-15 minutes getting to know these people before the “action” starts. Here we get to witness everyone’s personalities and traits as they handle the disaster. It is a method that works very well here as we get to understand our main players and relate to them better.

The film succeeds with its fine balancing act detailing how the workers kept trying endlessly to further damage the plant, to the battle these workers had with their superiors and the government agencies who hamper their efforts almost at every turn. The frustration with the higher-ups resonates through everyone here, so when Yoshida goes against the HQ orders, there is a palpable shock. His anger towards these people is barely contained as he continually yells and gives off to them when they tell him to do the opposite of what he should. Under such micro-management, the strain falls heavily on him with the guilt of any potential deaths weighing heavily on him, unlike those back in the HQ.

Contrast that to the comrade that everyone in Fukushima has as they try and navigate their way through this. Important scenes as Kôichi Satô Izaki has to inform his team that they have to go into the units to try to open the vents manually. As no one volunteers, he does so himself but asks for help. Seeing that their leader would go in, all men begin to offer themselves in his place. Wonderful moments like this are spread throughout the film and help rack up the tension as we see how close to death these people will go for each other to save everyone else.

This is a drama that feels fairly old-school in its narrative. Whereas more modern films would focus more on the actual event, we continually venture back to the families and cope with everything going on in the refuge hall. Fukushima 50 feels like Ron Howard had a heavy hand in it, and that is no shake on the film as when situations throughout those days become grimmer, you feel for those going back into the control rooms or to the units to carry out their tasks. The emotional connection is strong here as frustration, tiredness, and the thoughts of impending death suffocate the group. This emotional tone helps keep the audience enraptured as every performance pulls you in as the build-up of outrage at those who hindered these heroes.

The only true fault in Fukushima 50 is the special effects; this is a film that threw its money into the sets, so the one aspect to take the visual hit was the effects. The incoming tsunami and it’s after-effects are sketchy at best. Still, thanks to the cast’s committed performances who interact with the early tsunami, you believe their fear allows you to navigate it and centre back to the extraordinary story being told. This leads to the sets created and how authentic they feel; even in large open rooms where the emergency group is working, a claustrophobic tone is set, people are working on top of each other to help and when in the control rooms around the units. This helps bring a true sense of fear for the lives of those brave men who go inside.

Also, with a film such as this, it would have been better served to keep the valuable running time it had purely on the Japanese men and women working to find a solution or to the public at large. To continually go to the American side of things feels utterly wasted here and takes away from everything these people experienced by reeling in how the US diplomat would update the President on the situation; it is a nice touch. Still, for a 2-hour film, those minutes had to be used in more important places.

In the end, Fukushima 50 is no Chernobyl, but never tries to be, and for that, it helps it stand out. This is an emotional dramatization. All you can do as a viewer is respect the true heroes that this film has done very well in representing.



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