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Blogs from the past

Uncanny Terrain, new documentary about organic farmers facing Japan’s nuclear crisis by Tengan Rei filmmakers

Update May 6:

On May 23, filmmakers Junko Kajino and Ed M. Koziarski fly to Japan to begin production of the documentary Uncanny Terrain, about organic farmers’ response to Japan’s nuclear crisis. We’ve been consulting with experts in the U.S. and Japan about safety precautions and the questions we need to ask, as we capture the farmers’ efforts to meet this otherworldly threat with natural methods, and Japan’s efforts to preserve its food supply, its communities and its landscape.

This is a critical moment for the organic farmers just outside the nuclear evacuation zone around the beleaguered Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.  Some of the farmers have already been forced to abandon their land, their livestock, and their homes to the threat of radioactive fallout.  But many more are faced with uncertainty about the level of contamination in their soil, and they’re exploring how they can help the land repair itself.

Nearly 50 donors have generously contributed to cover our travel, but we still need your help to purchase video and audio equipment as well as radiation monitoring and protection gear, and to continue production through the September harvest. June 11 is our funding deadline, but PayPal contributions are available to us immediately.  If you can, please support the film today, and either way, spread the word by forwarding this email.  Thanks!

Japan Tsunami Charity ART show and Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Benefit

The weekend before we leave, we’re participating with painter Hiromi Tanaka and musician Tatsu Aoki in a show at Creative Lounge Chicago in Wicker Park benefiting the Fukushima Organic Farmers Network, Japanese Red Cross, and the production of Uncanny Terrain.  If you can, please come wish us bon voyage and help these worthy causes.

It’s Friday and Saturday, May 20-21, 6-10 p.m. at 1564 N. Damen Ave., 3rd Floor.  $10 minimum donation includes food and drink.  Painting and video installation continues Sunday, May 22, 1-6 p.m.

Links

Following the Farmers of Northern Japan, After the Quake by Twilight Greenaway in Civil Eats

Documenting the Disaster: Words with director Junko Kajino before she heads to the devastated regions of Northeastern Japan to document the effects of radiation on local organic
farmers
by Quin Slovek in Inflatable Ferret

Uncanny Terrain in Nancy O’Mallon’s About Harvest

Directors to produce Japan documentary this spring by Ed M. Koziarski in Reel Chicago

The Story

The first sprouts are beginning to emerge on Colorsof the Seasons Farm, 45 miles from the malfunctioning Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant and 20 miles outside the evacuation zone.

28-year-old Masanori Yoshida left his job as a cook at a French restaurant in Tokyo three years ago to work his family’s land with his wife, siblings, parents, and grandmother.  They grow natural crops including ‘firefly rice,’ so named because the insects, driven near extinction by chemical pesticides and fertilizer, have proliferated as farmers return to the traditional methods practiced by their ancestors.

The Yoshidas’ farm is one of hundreds of organic farms in Tohoku, the earthquake and tsunami-ravaged region of northern Japan that supplies much of the rice and vegetables to Tokyo and across the country.  Government warnings have limited the sale of food grown there since high levels of radiation were detected in some spinach, milk and fish from the region.

“We don’t know if our crops will be safe,” Masanori says.  “We can’t ignore this issue. But we won’t stop cultivating our land.  We farmers need to nurture the environment, nature and culture, and pass them to them to the next generation.”

Noboru Saitou’s Nihonmatsu Farm is famous for cucumbers.  He also grows rice, shiitake, garlic chives, bamboo shoots, and flowers.  Noboru works closely with the agricultural city of Nihonmatsu, 25 miles from the troubled nuclear reactor on the edge of the evacuation zone.

“Today, the ‘problem’ spinach sprouted,” Noboru says. “We were supposed to ship this after it grew, but now we can’t.  After spinach is cucumber season, then rice.  When the fields are golden we will harvest the rice.  That’s the best part of farming.  After that we’ll plant canola.  Each plant yields a lot.  I hope I can continue this year.  But now I see how hard it is.”

Hiromasa Kitagawa is the unofficial leader of MattariVillage, an off-the-grid community of homes made from recycled construction lumber, powered by wind, solar and water, heated by wood fire.  The people of Mattari share the food they grow.

“We grow vegetables that you can even eat the skin,” Hiromasu says.  “We spend our time and passion to go back to the way vegetables are supposed to be grown… We aim for 100% self-sufficiency.  Soon we hope to open our community for people to experience the sustainable lifestyle.  It’s cold in winter, but spring is so green, autumn’s colors are vivid, the night sky is beautiful, the water is clear.”

After the earthquake, Megumi Kondou was evacuated from her Chitata Farm.  Megumi awaits government approval to return to her farm.  She may not be able to grow her renowned koshihikari rice this year.  Instead she’s considering growing canola, which she believes
may help reduce radiation in the soil, and is a potential source of biodiesel.

Farmers and scientists search desperately for ways to continue safely using this rich land, or restore it to its natural state.  Whether they can succeed, or whether the farmers must abandon their ancestral homesteads, remains to be seen.

After suffering the world’s only nuclear attacks in World War II, Japan emerged from poverty and devastation and entered into a period of unprecedented technological innovation and economic growth.  Can today’s Japanese respond to this catastrophe with new forms of innovation that will allow this nuclear-dependent society to continue providing healthy food to
its people, and live in better harmony with the natural world?

The Project

Filmmakers Junko Kajino and Ed M. Koziarski are embarking on the new documentary Uncanny Terrain, to follow the organic farmers of Tohoku as they contend with the threat that nuclear fallout from the Fukushima Power Plant poses to their land and their livelihood.

From spring planting season, we will document the testing of their land and crops for radiation, their efforts to adjust to the changing environment, through the harvest and beyond.

We are seeking financial support to cover our travel and living across Tohoku in the coming months, and for the purchase of highly portable, high quality video equipment to document what we find.

We will build an international online community of people interested in sustainable agriculture and energy and in the future ofJapan, through regular video updates and ongoing dialogue around the issues raised in the film.  In the end we will have a film intended for international broadcast and distribution, and around the film we will have generated a wealth of new friends, knowledge and media to address these questions in our own communities.

The Filmmakers

Ed and Junko wrote, produced and directed the psychological drama feature film The First Breath of Tengan Rei.  Erika Oda of Kore-Eda’s After Life stars as an Okinawan woman who
kidnaps the teenage son of a U.S. Marine convicted of raping her when she was a girl.  An IFP Independent Film Lab selection, Rei screened theatrically, at educational venues and festivals across the U.S., Japan and in India.

They’re developing the film and graphic novel Hand Head Heart, based on Junko’s experience growing up in a traditional extended family on a cattle farm in central Japan, and learning the sword fighting martial art kendo.

Their short film Homesick Blues, starring pop singer Zoey (now Remah) as an Osaka girl running off to America to sing the blues, won the IFP/Chicago Flyover Zone Film Festival and played the Hawaii and Chicago international film festivals.

They’ve been co-producer, line producer, production manager, production designer and assistant director on films including Wendy Jo Carlton’s Hannah Free starring Sharon Gless, distributed by Wolfe Releasing; Malik Bader’s crime mockumentary Street Thief, a Tribeca Film Festival selection released by A&E Indie; Noel Olken’s Meditations on Trafficking; Brigid Maher’s Adrift in the Heartland; Anthony Collamati’s The Acedia Thing featuring Stana Katic (Castle); Scott Cozzolino’s Dead Letters, and Wojciech Lorenc’s pilot Windy Field.

They teach producing at Chicago Filmmakers.  Ed writes about film, media and arts for Filmmaker Magazine, the Chicago Reader, Time Out Chicago, and Reel Chicago.  A native of
Nagano, Japan, Junko studied film at Columbia College Chicago and Wright State University.  A native Chicagoan, Ed studied communications at Antioch College.

Cabin Fever Screens Acclaimed Film

Delta County Independent, March 17, 2010

Cabin Fever is the long-held and well-loved film series presented by the Paradise Theatre in downtown Paonia. This series was conceived almost 20 years ago by local film enthusiasts who wanted to bring independent and foreign film to the big screen in their little, rural community.

The tradition continues, and for the sixth film in this year’s series, the Paradise is pleased to offer the truly independent film “The First Breath of Tengan Rei,” a Japanese/American collaboration. Screenings are Wednesday, March 24, and Thursday, March 25, at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, March 27, at 1 p.m…

Paradise Theatre, March 24, 25 & 27—Paonia, Colorado



Tengan Rei makes its Colorado premiere in the Paradise Theatre‘s Cabin Fever Film Series.

We’re screening Wednesday, March 24 and Thursday, March 25 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, March 27 at 1 p.m. at 215 Grand Avenue in Paonia, Colorado.

We’ll be doing a live video Q&A via Skype after all three screenings.

Lake County Film Festival March 5-7

Tengan Rei returns to the Chicago area for our suburban premiere at the Lake County Film Festival. This is our second appearance at Lake County—our short film Homesick Blues played there in 2006.

It’s at the College of Lake County, 19351 Washington St., Grayslake, Illinois
Friday, March 5 at 8 p.m.—Room A162
Saturday, March 6 at 8:10 p.m.—Room B270
Sunday, March 7 at 5:10 p.m.—Room B270

Ina Born Film Director Junko Kajino Takes a Deeper Look at Military Bases in Okinawa – Shinano Mainichi Shinbun 11/28/2009

Shinano Mainichi 112809

This article about Junko, translated here from the original Japanese, appeared on the front page of the Nov. 28, 2009 issue of Shinano Mainichi Shinbun, the newspaper serving her home province of Nagano, during the three-city Japan theatrical run of The First Breath of Tengan Rei:

See a pdf of the article.

Okinawa, Japan, where the Futenma Air Base relocation issue is the hottest news right now: military base issues in Okinawa once again have everybody’s attention in Japan. The feature film The First Breath of Tengan Rei, loosely based on the 1995 assault of a young Okinawan girl by three American soldiers, just had its Tokyo premier.

The film’s main character Rei was assaulted by U.S. soldiers when she was a teenager. Years later, she goes to America, where she meets one of the soldiers’ son, named Paris, and kidnaps him. Despite her painful past, she tells Paris her experience, forcing him to face his father’s history for the first time. An unexpected bond begins to form between Paris and Rei.

Born in Ina, Nagano, Junko Kajino, 35 years old, currently lives in Chicago. Junko wrote, produced and directed the film with her partner Ed M. Koziarski. This 72-minute film The First Breath of Tengan Rei is their first collaborative feature film.

One of their inspirations goes back to the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003. After terrorists attacked the U.S., the Bush administration pushed relentlessly to invade and occupy Iraq. Koziarski questioned President Bush’s speech, when he said, “Okinawa is the good example” of American occupation. After World War II, the U.S. occupied Okinawa and built its bases there. Kajino says, “That can not be called a good example”

Kajino graduated from Inakita High School, and went to college in Tokyo, majoring in social welfare. When Kajino interned at a nursing home, she realized “I can not do this job with my half-hearted attitude.” She decided to quit the school and go to the U.S.

At a small college in the U.S., where she first studied English, she heard a guest lecture by an independent filmmaker. She was moved by his talk about the process of filmmaking – how films can be made with so many passionate people’s hard work. Just a year after she arrived in the U.S., she jumped into the filmmaking world.

The director who gave the lecture introduced Kajino to his friend Ed Radtke, who was going into the production on his second feature film. Kajino started to work as an assistant for Radtke’s production. But the jobs that she was assigned were cleaning, washing dishes, making coffee and copying. During her assistant work, she learned how Radtke insisted on his vision, even if it might cost time, money and hard labor that might not available to him with the limited resources in low budget film production. After working as an assistant, Kajino went to film school according to the director’s recommendation.

Kajino says “In the U.S., there are many people who might not know there are U.S. military bases in Okinawa. We need to raise our voices to increase awareness of this issue.” She decided to research Okinawa for the purpose of making a film about it.

In 2004, she visited Okinawa for the first time. Okinawans helped her to access the voices and experiences of living on a small island with big military bases. However, Okinawan attitudes toward military issues are complex. Some Okinawans were outraged when they heard that the film deals with the U.S. soldiers’ assault.

“Bringing up the incident like that is digging into the pain of Okinawa,” Junko was told many times. But others said, “You should tell the story, to help assure that it never happens again.” Some of the people who were angry at first became some of the film’s biggest supporters.

Junko decided to make the film after a few trips. “As a Japanese woman in America, I can put my real feeling to the story,” she says. “We also want to show the perspectives of the young Americans who may have no option but joining the military. They might be victims too.”

To complete the film, both directors tried to bring to life the perspectives of Okinawans. The film was financed through both Okinawans and people in U.S. – including former soldiers.

The film sold out its 2008 Chicago premiere, drawing positive audience response. Some audiences expected the film to be about revenge, but found it was something very different.

There have been several requests from military bases in Japan to screen the film, but it has not yet come to pass – military officials have hesitated when it came to making the final decision. But the directors believe the film has to be shown in public to both soldiers and people who live around the bases. Kajino says “the film will have real impact when they watch the film together.”

Tengan Rei screens in Philadelphia, Tokyo, Kobe, Osaka

Mon Oct 26 at 7:30 p.m. at Philadelphia’s Roxy Theatre
Benefit screening for the revived Antioch College
Presented by the Philadelphia Chapter of the Antioch College Alumni Association

Sat Nov 7 at the Tokyo Center for the Advancement of Working Women
Press screening sponsored by Asahi ELLES Inc.

NEW! Sat Nov 14 at 1 p.m. and Sun Nov. 15 at 6:30 p.m. at Kobe Planet Film Archive
Translated Kobe Planet Film Archive page

Sat Nov 21-Sat Nov 28 at Cine Nouveau in Osaka (twice a day all week)
See translated site.

Tengan Rei screens in Tokyo, Osaka, Philadelphia – Homesick Blues at Chicago art party ELEVATE tonight 9/19

Mon Oct 26 at Philadelphia’s Roxy Theatre
Benefit screening for the revived Antioch College
Presented by the Philadelphia Chapter of the Antioch College Alumni Association

Sat Nov 7 at the Tokyo Center for the Advancement of Working Women
Press screening sponsored by Asahi ELLES Inc.

Sat Nov 21-Sat Nov 28 at Cine Nouveau in Osaka (twice a day all week)
See translated site.

Watch out for news of the Tengan Rei DVD release, and Colorado screenings, plus more news from Japan!

Our short film Homesick Blues screens Sept. 19 in ELEVATE, a multimedia art exhibition I’m cocurating with [prak-sis] Contemporary Art Association. Tengan Rei cinematographer Stephen Combs’s Okinawa Postcard, which he shot during our Okinawan production, will premiere at ELEVATE, which features many outdoor and indoor videos, bands, artists, performers and DJ’s.

ELEVATE
Sat Sept 19, 7 p.m.-2 a.m.
1513 N. Western, Chicago