Japanese filmmaker Tomoko Kana is revisiting the legacy of nuclear catastrophe in a new feature film project that brings together survivors of Fukushima and Chernobyl.
Kana and producer Mari Mukai are looking for primarily German partners for the project, which they presented at this year’s Venice Gap-Financing Market and which will shoot to a large extent in Germany.
“A Picture Book” is a very personal project for Kana that reflects her own experiences, according to Mukai, Kana’s partner at Kyoto-based Horizon Features.
The film follows Satoko, a 32-year-old mother who every night reads her 4-year-old daughter a picture book, “Nina’s Apple Tree.” Satoko’s peaceful life changes dramatically after a strong earthquake and a nuclear accident. Soon after giving birth to her second child, she discovers her breast milk is contaminated with radiation. Satoko later learns that her daughter’s beloved book is actually based on a true story about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. She decides to travel to Germany to meet Nina, who moved to the country after recovering from thyroid cancer.
It’s a story inspired in part by the filmmaker’s own life. A Tokyo native, Kana was living in the city at the time of the Fukushima nuclear power plant explosions that followed the March 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami that left some 18,500 dead or missing.
Having made the 2004 documentary “From the Land of Bitter Tears,” about the Japanese Imperial Army’s use of poison gas during WWII and its lingering effects on village people in China, Kana was aware of the health risks of radiation and wasn’t initially planning to cover the accident, Mukai explained. That changed when she discovered that the plant actually began operation on March 26, 1971 – her birthday.
“The plant was built to supply electricity in Tokyo, not Fukushima,” Mukai said. “Therefore she felt a strange fate and decided to go to ground-zero with her husband and her camera. Then in April she felt sick and feared it was because of the radiation exposure, but it turned out she was pregnant with her first child. This was the beginning of everything.”
She chronicled that experience in her 2014 Busan documentary competition title “A Lullaby Under the Nuclear Sky.”
“A Picture Book” has already received financing support from the Japan Content Localization and Distribution (J-LOD) subsidy fund, although Mukai is aiming to secure additional development and production coin.
“I am looking for a production partner in Germany for the reason that half of the film’s location is in Germany,” Mukai noted, adding that potential partners don’t have to be exclusively based in the country. The film is set to shoot on location in Nagasaki, Kyoto, Tokyo and in various regions in Germany.
The project, which has yet to land a sales company, is being presented with a minimum budget of some €450,000 with the aim of raising additional financing to enable expanded possibilities, the producer said.
Kana’s works also include the acclaimed 2009 climate change documentary “Beautiful Islands.”