Kamanaka, Hitomi. 2010. Ashes to Honey. Group Gendai.

“What is the best course of development for humankind?” director Hitomi Kamanaka asks in her 2010 film, Ashes to Honey. This documentary builds an argument for the necessity of a sustainable future by portraying a local struggle to preserve fishing and farming on the small island of Iwaishima, on the Pacific side of southwestern Japan, against a nuclear power plant proposed to be built across the bay. Filmed over the course of three years, Kamanaka and her crew gradually gained the trust of the islanders as a voice to adequately represent their concerns to a larger audience. Although completed before the Fukushima disaster, this film helps further historical understandings of ongoing debates related to nuclear power that have swept Japan and much of the world.

The trajectory of the film spans across local, global, and national arenas, and begins with one of the younger residents of Iwaishima, a man in his 30s named Takashi. Like most young residents, he had left the island for higher education. Uniquely, Takashi, who is son to the outspoken representative of the 27-year long struggle against the local power company, Chugoku Denryoku (“Chuden”), had also returned to the island to make his own life: a struggle at best since he began his endeavor with no knowledge of how to live off the land. Through Takashi and Chuden, the film presents its central problematic: both argue that development must take place but each have vastly different ideas about what a path to the future entitles.

The film expands its perspective on this issue by shifting its focus from Iwaishima to rural Sweden. Interviews with people involved in sustainability projects of small and large scales show how national administrators embraced a variety of renewable energy projects implemented by grass-roots efforts, ultimately ushering in a new era for national energy policy. This section serves as a counterpoint to Japan’s policies, which do little to discourage energy market monopolization, and offers a concrete model for the kind of change that Kamanaka advocates.

The emotionally evocative final third of Ashes to Honey depicts the actual practices of protest as the villagers’ fishing boats face off with Chuden’s ships in rain and rough seas. These sequences are especially potent for viewers familiar with Japan’s deep history of non-violent protest, such as the similar actions of the fishing collectives of Ominato against the government’s experimental, nuclear-powered ship the Mutsu. In contrast to the use of violence to resolve differences, Kamanaka’s film nods to the visual style of Tsuchimoto Noriaki’s “Minamata” films and stands as an example to students of how conflict can be politically charged yet non-violent.

Just as it effectively uses Swedish points of view to expand its perspective, educators can use Ashes to Honey to expand students’ perspectives on Fukushima and nuclear power in general. Kamanaka’s documentation of a complicated human story presents a starkly simple choice between two distinct paths of development: one sustainable and one dependent upon nuclear power, with all of the risks that it brings.

Kenneth Masaki Shima

FILM: Ashes to Honey (2010)
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