Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of the triple catastrophes that struck Japan on March 11, 2011. While we often read about how quickly Japan has been able to clear out the debris, how some of the destroyed roads have already been repaved, and how some ports are even opening up for businesses again, the reality is that thousands of people are still missing or displaced, and that many areas near the failed reactors remain deserted ghost towns.
Plenty of experts have already opined on how Japan will or will not recover, but none can explain the impact of the disasters quite like the children who lived through them. That’s why “Children of the Tsunami,” a beautifully produced BBC documentary, speaks such volumes.
Candid and raw, never mawkish or accusatory, the documentary allows surviving children to put into their own words what they felt and how they’ve come to cope with the disasters. And throughout the documentary, the children retell their experiences with such calmness and nostalgia that it’s heartbreaking. There’s not a hint of resent or petulance, no questioning of “Why did this happen to me?” Just optimism and equanimity.
It’s clear that these children have had to mature beyond their years, and yet they still retain that hopeful glimmer in their eyes that only children can have. They never feel victimized, but instead dream of having their own children in the future, of becoming patisseries who volunteer on the weekends and of scientists who work to make the world a safer place. It is hard not to feel humbled by their resilience.
There are, of course, adults in the documentary that give their testimonial as well. More so than the the children, the adults are the ones who show clear signs of distress. About halfway through the documentary, there’s a truly disconcerting scene wherein a man slams down a single shoe–all that remains of his daughter–before an apologetic teacher who was the sole adult survivor from a ravaged school. “See this shoe? All that’s left is this shoe,” the bereaved father cries. “See how destroyed this is…is this all that’s left that of my daughter?”
But adults too must dig deep within themselves to find the resolve needed to continue living. One of the scenes I found particularly poignant was of a mother, who, after recounting how she found the remains of her daughter, without limbs and head, floating on the sea, quietly climbs into an excavator to continue searching for the remains of other missing children.
All said, “Children of the Tsunami” is a powerful documentary that treats its subject with dignity. It doesn’t shy from tragedy but it also ends on a hopeful note. If you plan on watching any documentary about the plight of children in a distant country this week, I hope you’ll make it this one.