Four years in the making, “Living on the River Agano” is a powerful indictment of Japanese government policies. Pic focuses on the destruction of traditional communities and lifestyles by chemical pollution in the Agano River Valley and the continued disregard for its inhabitants’ suffering. Film’s intimate approach brings viewers into the daily lives and concerns of those affected, making their plight all the more palpable.
Docu explores communities along the river, which runs through the country’s northern Snow Region. After a dam was constructed in 1929, the Showa Electric Co. began to dump organic mercury into the river until residents began to come down with Minamata disease. Fish were poisoned, and fishing and related sources of livelihood for generations came to an end.
Before filming, second-time documaker Satoh Makoto and a crew of six lived in the community for a year, helping residents with farming and fishing. This was followed by two years of filming and another year to shape the material. Makoto sold shares to more than 1,400 investors from around the country to cover post-production costs.
What emerges is an intimate glimpse of the people and their lives as they try to live as they have for centuries. Most young people have opted to move to the larger cities, leaving their often crippled parents and grandparents to carry on with tradition. We follow the futile attempts of these sexagenarians and septuagenarians to acquire official recognition of their affliction (only 650 of the thousands of applicants have been so recognized in a decade).
“Living on the River Agano” is a powerful and unflinching document that extends into larger issues, ones that deserve to be heard.