Large scale disasters have a tendency to sear themselves into the collective psyche. Even smaller, localised disasters – natural or man-made – have a potential to leave long-lasting tracks in the national cultural landscape. People in the impacted areas continue to live in the shadow of old tragedy, with memories of relatives and friends who perished, lost possessions, physical and emotional scars. The wider community, too, is reminded of what happened as writers, composers and movie makers make references to the disasters in their music, books, films. Thus, a disaster becomes part of our national identity.
When something profoundly devastating happens, it is not just the town folk whose life will never be the same. A disaster has a potential to affect everything – laws, politics, attitudes, books people become interested in, fashion, art, everything. Think about World War II. It changed so many countries so radically. Germany has become ultra-pacifist; Russia got a charge of national pride that lasted decades; Japan has borne the scars of atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I have been to atomic bomb museums in both cities. One thing that I found particularly tragic is that there are still people impacted by the bombing. Children who were irradiated in utero are now sickly adults; some survivors are still battling cancer; witnesses still remember the terror like it was yesterday. There is no doubt that the recent events at Fukushima plants are seen through the prism of that legacy by the Japanese. As this WSJ article says, “for the only country ever to have experienced the atomic bomb and the horrific effects of concentrated radiation exposure, the nuclear crisis escalating in Japan has had a crippling effect on the nation’s collective psyche.”
What is also happening, I believe, is the public’s renewed concerned over the safety and suitability of nuclear energy for such seismically active nation as Japan. I read a fascinating article in Japan Times that talks about the way the disaster is affecting what movies are being shown around Japanese cinema.
Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter” was pulled due to its tsunami scene, while Chinese disaster film “Aftershock,” which features not one but two megaquakes, has been held back indefinitely. But two movies are generating an immense public interest. ‘Countdown to Zero’ is about the increasing threat of nuclear weapons and “Into Eternity” is a startling documentary about a nuclear waste storage facility that is built deep underground in Finland. Pre-screenings of “Into Eternity” generated a stampede, with people being turned away from the doors. Currently, the Japanese nuclear situation is such that the spent nuclear fuel, the nuclear waste, is being kept in pools near the reactors. Nuclear waste lasts over a 100,000 years. Humanity is simply not equipped to deal with it – the entire human history is only 50,000 years long. The nuclear waste we are currently generating has a potential to outlive current and many future civilisation – and perhaps outlive humans altogether. Now that’s a scary thought. Enough to turn anyone into an anti-nuclear campaigner!
Have a look at the trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qoyKe-HxmFk – what an eerie move. Can’t wait to watch it!