The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom (2011) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Survivors in the areas hardest hit by Japan's recent tsunami find the courage to revive and rebuild as cherry blossom season begins.


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  • This Academy Award-nominated short documentary explores the aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and the cultural significance of Japan's famous sakura, or cherry blossoms. On 11 March 2011, residents watch in horror as a town is swept away in an enormous wave as people run to safety and fires erupt. Afterwards, one woman describes seeing a nurse home flooded and explains how it barely seemed like "real life." Other residents talk about seeing entire houses floating moving in the wave and their attempts to escape the sudden rush of water and get to higher ground. One man grows emotional as he describes the "unbearable" experience of watching his best friend die, saying that items can be replaced, but life cannot. 70% of the students at Okawa elementary school were swept away in the flood, with bodies being found many miles away. One woman admits that she is holding out hope for her sister's life, and as the townsfolk clear the roads, they salvage photographs and other personal mementos for family members. A small community center becomes a shelter for 600 residents, with its leader explaining that "everyone underestimated" the tsunami's power. One man states that he will rebuild his home and continue living in the town, as his family has been there for sixty years. Another problem arises near the Fukushima nuclear plant after a hydrogen explosion, and people are advised to stay inside to avoid absorbing the radiation, though most residents continue their cleanup of the town despite the dangers.

    As spring approaches, the cherry blossoms, described as "beautiful but not showy" in Japanese, begin to bloom again. One man, who has inherited the position of orchard cherry master from the past fifteen generations of his family, describes the nature's dichotomy of beauty and terror, saying that raising trees is like raising children, and that Shinto dictates that all living things acquire a spirit. One famous tree in Fukushima, known as the Miharu Takizakura, is over a thousand years old, and though it can no longer be directly approached, elderly women happily describes playing on it as children, saying it will outlive them all. Other residents describe their feelings about sakura, and the cherry master says that "whatever you want to see" is reflected in the blossoms as people observe them in hanami, or viewing parties, and take photos. The blossoms are better together, like the Japanese people, as one man explains, and they "die beautifully" like the samurai after their short lives. There are ten separate, specific stages to a full blossom, and when they fall they create hana-ikada, or flower rafts, and their short lives make them all the more worthy of admiration. Because of the tsunami, the yearly festival is canceled, but many residents nevertheless comment on the plant's resilience, noting its regrowth in previously-flooded areas and musing that the trees provide hope and strength as they attempt to rebuild and improve their lives.

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