“There is no democracy in Japan”
Such were the last words I heard Jun Hori utter before he left for Japan, having spent a year at UCLA as a visiting scholar. His quote paints a picture that is reminiscent of the world created by George Orwell’s dystopian classic “Nineteen-Eighty-Four”. Admittedly, Japan is a far cry from Oceania, the totalitarian regime that conjured the notion of “Big Brother”, but some of the Orwellian factors may indeed be present in today’s society. Jun is a prominent TV personality, working for NHK, Japan’s only public broadcaster. His easy personality and his 「甘いマスク」(sweet looks) belies a stubborn drive and determination to rectify all that he deems to be wrong with the Japanese society. The ongoing dilemna that Jun faces is based on the unique position he stands on: on the one hand, he works for NHK, the largest, most dominant TV presence in the country, but on the other, he is an independent journalist/film maker, driven by his desire to cover stories that NHK refuses to cover. The juxtaposition of his two sides puts him in constant ire of his employer, NHK, who finally decided to let him go just a few days ago. Now, Jun is free from the clutches of the media giant that has kept him grounded, like so many others. His new-found freedom will certainly enable him to pursue his own passion towards an “open” press, one where the people tell the stories.
Metamorphosis is a movie, a product fueled by the turmoil Jun has felt working for NHK while covering the disaster. Media in Japan, he says is a “one way” street. “We create the stories based on provided templates, and discard those that don’t fit”. The results, he says, are carefully calibrated stories that reflects the desired views of the government, and not the people. During the tenuous days that followed the 3.11 disasters, the numerous explosions at Fukushima’s Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant prompted the Government, and TEPCO to make questionable decisions during intensely high pressure situations. Many of these decisions involved the public’s safety, and many of these discussions were withheld from the very public it was trying to keep safe.
Metamorphosis dives straight into this conundrum, as if to ask the question: What really happened? Not only does it do so by touching upon the people’s fury and frustration over the government and TEPCO’s many missteps along the way, but it goes further, by exploring nuclear catastrophies through a historical lens. This is done by Jun himself journeying across the globe to the United States, and visiting sites of nuclear significance: Three Mile Island (1979) and the lesser known Santa Suzanna (1959). There he interviewed local residents and joined them in their on-going town hall meetings between community members and nuclear power plant related employee’s, dialogues he claimed would “never” happen in Japan.
But the true essence of the movie comes about through the disclosure of some shocking revelations. Metamorphosis masterfully succeeds in “connecting the dots”, showing a sequence of interviews with key players: the city council member put in charge of evacuating his 7000 citizens in Naraha Town, the former secretary to the then Prime Minister Kan and the former TEPCO part time employee who was forced to submit a false resume. These individual stories connect to form a collective narrative that directly challenges and questions the intent, philosophy and character that was and continues to be present in the ongoing nuclear crisis.
It should also be noted that this movie is a triumph to Jun’s ultimate goal to realize a “people’s” news channel. Almost half of the material in the movie comes from, you got it, the “people” on the ground. The grainy youtube clips only adds to the creditability and authenticity of the content. To underscore the power of social media, the theme song for the opening of the movie was provided by none other than Ryuichi Sakamoto, who himself reached out to Jun through Twitter. Here is the opening scene, beautifully taken by Atsushi Abe, one of Jun’s twitter followers, highlighted by Ryuichi Sakamoto’s theme song.
Maybe Big Brother is watching, but if Jun is to succeed, the people will prevail in Japan.