The Babushkas of Chernobyl

What a terrific film! I have to thank Sharon for recommending it to me. I learned of Babushkas of Chernobyl from the library’s Fall Film Challenge. Here’s what she wrote on the DVD’s Fall Film Challenge slip of paper:

A unique story to be sure. Quoting the co-director Holly Morris, “The dead zone, it turns out, is full of life.” That is a great hook and so true. After the Chernobyl disaster, the Babushkas refused to stay away from their homes. Decades later, they continue to live on their own terms. These women are rock-solid awesome.

Like The Wolfpack, you can put this in the “who knew” category i.e. stranger than fiction. These women find a way.

Yes, this is the story of three grandmas, or Babushkas, who retuned to their homes within the Dead Zone by Chernobyl. They farm here, forage and fish. So daily they eat what’s high in radiation. Yet, and the doctors confirm this, they outlive many of their former neighbors who evacuated. Go figure.

We learn about these tough women and their thinking about living in a ghost town. We also see the teenage boys who’ve taken to sneaking through the barbed wire. These teens play a computer game called S.T.A.L.K.E.R. which is set in the site of the nuclear disaster. They’re drawn to this eerie ghost town, where some of their relatives lived and worked. They see it as romantic.

The Babushkas are sure to warm your heart. Talk about resilient and dedicated.

Human Condition, Part I

HUMAN CONDITION

Tatsuya Nakadai as Kaji

Human Condition, Part 1 is probably the most movie film I’ve ever seen. Directed by Masaki Koyabashi, Human Condition, Part 1 shows places idealistic hero Kaji-san in a Manchurian mine that’s managed with an iron fist. Young Kaji-san believes if the workers are treated humanly, they’ll produce more. Even if they didn’t, he believes it’s the right thing to do. Who wouldn’t agree?

The answer is plenty of the other managers and administrators. The head honcho will indulge Kaji-san, but only so far. That man’s main preoccupation seems to be living the easy life. Okishima-san is a veteran at the mind, who think’s Kaji-san’s ideas are too humanistic, but he’s open to giving them a try. He’s one of the few friends Kaji has.

Soon the mine is given 600 Chinese war prisoners. At the same time the higher ups have increased the quota by 20%. Kaji-san wants to see them treated well. He’s certainly alone on that.

When the train comes with the Chinese, the workers are emaciated. Fifteen died en route. Kaji-san campaigns for humane treatment for the Chinese. By ¬†giving them more food, by no means a lot, they are able to work. Trouble comes when some of these prisoners start to escape. Kaji-san’s Chinese assistant Chen gets talked into convincing his pal who mans the electricity to shut it off after 1 am. When the third group tries to escape, Kaji-san’s nemesis accuses Kaji-san, who was totally in the dark, of allowing the prisoners to escape.

The acting, particularly Nakadai’s, is outstanding. I’ve never been so moved. While the camera is used masterfully, the film manages to blend naturalism and art.

Three and a half hours is a long time for a film, but the time speeds by. That’s quite a feat.

Kabei: Our Mother

Set in the 1930s and 40s, Kabei: Our Mother chronicles a family in Japan whose father gets arrested for thought crimes during the lead up to WWII. The Nagomas and their young daughters live in Tokyo. They seem a genuinely loving, humble, happy family made human by some small money trouble. Then the father, a scholar, is arrested for writings that questions Japan’s invasion of China.

The story continues showing the strength of each character and those who come to offer help. The film manages to convey the best of Japanese mores without painting a halo around each character, which would make them honorable and untouchable. Here everyone’s feet touch the ground.

So many scenes stand out. For example, a rough and tumble annoying uncle comes to visit. He walks into town where some matrons are exhorting people to give up luxury goods. They get personal and chastise two young girls who’re dressed nicely. The uncle gets in the middle of this defending the girls and saying in his boisterous way that there’s nothing wrong with a girl looking pretty. The women turn on him since he’s wearing a gold ring, which they think he should donate to the army. Fat chance, this guy’s not going to do that. He manages to give them the slip as they call the police.

Though she’s the title character and a strong presence, the mother doesn’t take center stage. (Westerner works need a star, Japanese works need quiet relationships, the harmony of wa.) I see this as an ensemble film and each character is memorable and important.

Like an Ozu film, Kabei is full of scenes that are funny and touching. It’s full of what Barbara Nicolosi calls Haunting Moments, scenes and images that stay with you well after the credits roll.

I learned quite a bit about one facet of the effect of WWII on Japan.