“The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom”: A Day of Carnage

Nominated for a Best Documentary Academy Award this year “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom” is also a powerful narrative as vibrant as any dramatic cinema, an extraordinary, mesmerizing tribute to the resilience of human nature.  More than an epitaph of mourning and loss, this film interviews ordinary residents whose philosophical attitudes toward the day of carnage are not easily dismissed.  Their amazing faces humanize this catastrophe of nature.

The ten-minutes of home-video taken from a hill overlooking the explosive black waves surging towards the coastline of Sendai will render you speechless.  No other photography matches what you will see here! The scale and imagery are overwhelming.

An elegy to both the victims and the healing of the survivors who carry their memories, the cherry blossom, an iconic symbol of Japanese culture and philosophy, resonates with healing their wounds.  Cherry blossom season begins in early spring.  Representing rebirth and renewal, these delicate flowers stand in for the transience of beauty and the fragility of life itself. However, the cinematic sonnet to the quiet beauty and power of nature is much more subtle and refined. The cherry blossom tree is imbued with power, dignity and courage:  Shinto values of nature’s spirit.  In interviews with the filmmaker, each Japanese survivor explains how the beautiful trees, although almost drowned in salt water, inspire the Sendai residents to survive and bloom again.

One man, consumed with grief for the death of his best friend, describes the unbearable experience of watching him die, saying that items can be replaced, but life cannot. Another elderly man, a cherry orchard master whose ancestors had supervised the orchards for over 300 years, explains that a nursery of cherry trees is “like raising children.   You think about them all the time, but you have to let them do what they want. As they get older (in a few hundred years) a spirit will inhabit them and they will develop their own identity.” The background soundtrack is a muted sacramental hymn, not unlike Gregorian chant, underscoring the spiritual attitude of the cherry orchard master for his botanical children.

“Nature has a terrible destructive power.  And nature also has a creative power.  Beauty and terror always exist in nature, but we forget the terror.”   Reiterating Shinto’s belief that all living things acquire a spirit, the philosophy  fascinates.

This superb film reveals healing wounds and healing people, even in times of disaster. Look for it on HBO since it is not yet available through Netflix.