Air travel and nuclear power are frequently cited as the safest examples of their field; more people die on roads than aeroplanes, more accidents occur in coal fired power stations than nuclear reactors, yet when something does go amiss it is almost inevitably irretrievably catastrophic, as demonstrated by the incidents at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, in March 1979, at Chernobyl in the Ukraine in April 1986, and at Fukushima in Japan in March 2011.
Precautions taken and failsafes built into the design, they were insufficient to withstand the sequence of events which impacted the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, first a category 9.0 earthquake off the northeast coast of Japan which prompted an immediate shutdown of the active reactors, then the subsequent tsunami which flooded the facility, shorting out the onsite backup generators which maintained the cooling system necessary to control the vast heat released by the nuclear pile even in a dormant state.
Adapted by Yōichi Maekawa from Ryusho Kadota’s book on the near disaster, On the Brink: The Inside Story of Fukushima Daiichi, director Setsurō Wakamatsu’s Fukushima 50 recreates the timeline of the incidents as experienced by those within the control facilities and the critically damaged power plant, starring Inception’s Ken Watanabe as Masao Yoshida, plant manager, and Unforgiven’s Kōichi Satō as Toshio Isaki, the operations manager in charge of implementing the recovery attempts.
Victims of corporate ineptitude as much as circumstance, the cracking Earth, the rage of the ocean and the instability of enriched nuclear fuel, the fifty men who remain on site to manually attempt to restore cooling to prevent a major release of radioactivity to the atmosphere or a full runaway meltdown are hampered by poor communication, contradictory instructions and inadequate equipment, but brought up in a culture where it is an honour to serve they remain dutiful and proud while those in government squirm to avoid responsibility.
The focus those willing to sacrifice their lives for the greater good of their neighbours and nation, the performances are earnest but Fukushima 50 is a by-the-numbers true-life disaster movie, the potential impact dulled by the earlier arrival of HBO’s highly regarded Chernobyl miniseries and previous depictions of Fukushima, thematically in the opening sequence of Godzilla which parallels the incident and evacuation and then satirised in Shin Godzilla with its endless scenes of meeting rooms and bickering bureaucrats.
Astonishingly, even with the potential for the situation to escalate out of control and the multiple injuries to those at the facility only one death was directly attributed to the incident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, but despite the numerous failings identified in subsequent investigations these are overlooked in favour of a sentimental service of remembrance, an avoidance of uncomfortable facts in preference for an unsupported conviction that all will be well similar to that which led to the situation in the first place.