変身|Metamorphosis: A turbulent ride towards justice


“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.

Jun Hori's last day at UCLA

Jun Hori’s last day at UCLA was spent putting the finishing touches to his movie

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.


Twitter 911


In June of 2011, I spoke at the inaugural UCLA TEDx, hastily putting together a talk (“Can Twitter Save Lives?“) that demonstrated my despair over the Japan Disasters, and my encouragement for us to seriously consider twitter as a conduit for emergency response. Now, exactly two years after the disasters, Japan has finally acknowledged social media as an official medium for 911 calls (it is 119 in Japan). Today, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency (総務省消防庁) announced their plans to roll this service out experimentally, starting this summer. While it is primarily aimed at those with people with disabilities, I can’t hep but think that this is a step in the right direction, and that many of us would find twittering 911 more intuitive than dialing 911. I would encourage all of us to geo-enable our tweets in times of crisis.

Posted in GIS

An ode to the non-spatial spatial

In this day and age of GPS enabled everything, where satellite imagery from the Googles respond to every cartographic works’ inaccuracies, it has become second nature to demand locational accuracies at all levels, hence the debacle that was Apple Maps. But does spatial accuracy always prevail? Do “maps” need to cater to our locational imaginary? Is our natural body GPS awareness always demanding of literal directional and distance dimensions? Or could it be that our definition of space is at times more cultural, more historical, more imaginative than our GPS dictates?

Here is an ode to the non-spatial spatial, via the famous London Subway Maps from the 1930’s, courtesy of LA Times Henry Chu:

Posted in GIS

Seeing the 2012 Presidential Election Results in 3D

The 2012 Presidential Elections have come and gone, and many of us were transfixed by the myriad of visualizations, many in the form of maps, that were fed to us through the general media.  While many of these maps were of the 2D variety, it is well known that due to the high density urban areas in the country, juxtaposed against the low population density in the suburban areas, that the maps just don’t tell the entire story.  If you were to take the following 2D map, you would be hard pressed to make a case that Obama (blue) actually won the election:

Check out this tutorial on how to create this map

Another way to visualize the results of the election is by creating a 3D view of this map.  By “extruding” (the act of applying a “height” parameter) each county polygon based on the margin of victory, this visualization tells a different story than does the 2D map.  Take a look for yourself!

Here is the Google Earth (KMZ) file for this visualization

Posted in GIS