Movie review: Fukushima 50
As the first mainstream Japanese film to directly depict the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident, one can almost understand why this earnest, sanitised and patchwork retelling of the true story of the titular group of employees who chose to remain on-site and avert a meltdown was handled so gently.
Almost too gently.
For a disaster genre offering to be truly effective and compelling, key ingredients need to be present.
Human tension, suspense, action - we expect to be riding an emotional roller coaster.
But Fukushima 50 is tragically scant in those departments. The scope of devastation caused by the impact of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami is underwhelming, as are the subsequent hydrogen explosions.
There is some build-up over the selfless heroism of the suicide squad, but these front-liners' courageous efforts to cool the reactors and thus avoid massive radioactive contamination over a five-day ordeal lack danger and peril.
In fact, there is hardly any death or loss of limb on screen for a viewer to really take the situation seriously.
Veteran actors Koichi Sato as the power plant's shift supervisor and Ken Watanabe as its site superintendent bring some gravitas, but even they can't tug at heartstrings or wring much tears - although Watanabe does have one choice scene where he shows his utter disdain for his superiors, and the most (unintentionally) funny line of the movie.
Instead, what we get too much of is shouty Japanese men who go on and on about following orders amid the escalating conflict between the Tokyo Electric Power Company and Japanese government, to the point where even the Prime Minister ends up looking like a comical fool.
By the end, the only thing the film radiates is maudlin sentiment, whether it is a US Air Force general reminiscing about growing up in Fukushima or a big speech about saving hometowns and the human ego.
While Fukushima 50 is still a valuable cautionary tale from a historical perspective that future generations can learn from, it delivers a flimsy cinematic experience that, ironically, requires much more heat to be powered up for a deeper impact.