Filmmaker Lucy Walker set out to make “a visual haiku about cherry blossoms” in Japan, but changed her plans radically following the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit the country in March of 2011. Taken with the cherry blossom’s beauty and ability to symbolize the ephemeral quality of life, Walker links the disaster with the power of Japan’s most beloved flower to heal and inspire. Walker’s stunning visual poem opens with a long clip of jaw-dropping real-life footage of the tsunami, showing water sweeping houses and buildings along like toys, lifting up cars, and swallowing people. It then moves to interviews with survivors from a northern Japanese village in the heart of the disaster, who share their traumatic personal experiences of the tsunami against a backdrop of cherry blossoms — a symbol rooted deep in Japanese culture that suggests rebirth.
The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom was nominated in 2012 for an Academy Award as Best Documentary Short Film. In this quality, introspective documentary, Walker has captured mother nature both at her cruelest and at her most nurturing. Juxtaposed with the harrowing stories of many residents who lived through the tsunami and its aftermath – including the extraordinary threat posed by the flooding of the Fukushima nuclear plant — is the springtime blooming of Japan’s famous sakura, or cherry blossoms. One man, who has inherited the position of orchard cherry master from the past fifteen generations of his family, describes nature’s dichotomy of beauty and terror. And many survivors comment on this special tree’s resilience, noting its regrowth in previously-flooded areas and musing that the trees provide hope and strength as the Japanese people attempt to rebuild and improve their lives.
Lucy Walker directed the film, and also produced it with the assistance of Kira Carstensen. Support for the film was provided through a grant from the Women In Film/National Geographic All Roads Film Project. Aaron Phillips was the film’s photographer, and Moby wrote the music. In addition to its nomination for an Academic Award, The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom won the Jury Prize in Short Film, Non-Fiction, at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival; as well as the Environmental Film Festival’s third annual Polly Krakora Award for artistry in film.
Running time: 39 minutes