Kurosawa Saw it Coming: Fukushima Meltdown

One of the most visionary, artistically impactful filmmakers of the 20th Century, Akira Kurosawa, vividly and presciently portrayed the March 11, 2011 meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in his 1990 film Dreams. A series of 30 short vignettes, grouped into eight “chapters” representing Kurosawa’s dreams, viscerally and accessibly bring to a point his philosophy and life wisdom, mellowed and refined throughout his 60-year filmmaking career.

Mt Fuji in Red

In the chapter “Mount Fuji in Red,” Mount Fuji begins to glow red and intensify in color and brightness in an eerie, menacing way. The edges of the mountain begin to dissolve, and six explosions are seen, coming from behind the mountain. People in the crowded countryside begin to scatter like ants, terrified. Roads are jammed with cars of people trying to flee, and the cars are abandoned on the road as their passengers take off on foot. The young male protagonist (presumably Kurosawa himself) asks if Mt. Fuji is erupting, to which a young lady accompanied by two small children replies, “It’s worse than that. Didn’t you know? The nuclear power plant has exploded.” At this point, a middle-aged business-man, consumed with worry replies, “The six atomic reactors. They’re exploding one after another. Japan is so small there’s no escape.”

The scene of utter chaos abruptly changes to a quiet, windswept seaside landscape, littered with people’s belongings; the only people left are the young man, the lady with her children, and the businessman. “Where did they escape to?” asks the young man. “To the bottom of the sea,” replies the now remorseful businessman, pointing with a gesture reminiscent of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

Then different colored clouds begin to blow across the shore. The businessman, whom we now connect with the power plant as an engineer or upper manager, names the kinds of radioactivity that the colors represent: red is Plutonium-239–one ten-millionth of a gram causes cancer; yellow is Strontium-90 which causes leukemia; purple is Cesium- 137; it affects reproduction, causing mutations and monstrosities. Even the dolphins in the ocean are doomed by the radioactivity, he reflects. He ponders a life of radioactivity-provoked disease and suffering, and concludes it is better to die right away.

The young woman poignantly cries about the injustice of the situation for her children, who have a whole life ahead of them.

“Man’s stupidity is unbelievable, ” concludes the businessman, before jumping off of the cliff into the ocean.

In the film, the accident is attributed to human error, the only real digression from the actual event. But we had Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island, and both of those disasters were caused by human error.

Kurosawa died in 1998, thirteen years before the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, causing 25,000 immediate deaths, meltdown of the 6-reactor Daiichi nuclear plant, and massive radioactivity pollution to the land, air, and sea that is still taking place and is reaching all waters and continents of the globe. Government officials are only now admitting that the gravity of the disaster is on a par with that of Chernobyl in 1986. The nuclear elements mentioned in Kurosawa’s film, even when “spent,” have radioactive half-lives of MILLIONS of years. While only a handful of deaths will be attributed directly to acute exposure to nuclear fuels and waste products–those who battled the meltdown in direct proximity to the nuclear reactors– the millions of painful cancer cases, birth defects, skin rashes, respiratory problems, and other serious chronic health ailments that will be passed along from generation to generation will probably never be officially counted or revealed.

The moral of the story: Listen to your visionaries, and don’t mess with nuclear energy.

What Does “Green” Really Mean?

Lately, the word “green” is re-tweeted from everyone’s lips (and electronic devices), from marketers to start-up entrepreneurs to laid-off corporate job-seekers. It has been identified as the latest buzz-word with which to get a foot in the door for an interview, or as the new competency that will give one candidate the edge over another for employment. There are certification programs in “green” technology, marketing, manufacture. Obama pledged, during his candidacy, to promote “green jobs” as a vehicle for getting the economy back on its feet.

(Copyright Jim Henson, Sesame Street. With deep gratitude to Kermit the Frog)

But what does “green” really mean? Close your eyes for a minute and really think about what comes to your mind when you hear the word “green.” Key into the emotional context. Try to visualize how green living and green technology manifest themselves in your mind’s eye. I would venture to say that for most of us, “green” is a feel-good concept that hangs vaguely on the horizon of our daily consciousness; a nice-to-have, but not a mandate, especially since most green things are more expensive than non-green things (and economy is foremost on our minds these days). Hybrid cars, for example, cost significantly more than non-hybrid cars, and are harder to get. Solar energy is great for the environment, and eventually saves money over conventional electricity, but the installation costs seem insurmountable for most homeowners, so most people stick with coal- or nuclear-generated electricity and natural gas. Recycled paper products often cost more than virgin wood products.

“Green” means different things to different people. But lest the term should pass, unexamined, into our everyday parlance, let’s take a moment to reflect on what the word “green” means.

When I hear the word “green,” it conjures up in my mind a utopian globe, where clean streams empty into blue oceans teeming with millions of species of happy fish, beautiful whales and dolphins, while contented flocks of birds, butterflies and dragonflies flutter overhead, protected from ultraviolet solar rays by a healed ozone layer. Factories are all compliant with stringent regulations that prohibit air, water, and soil pollution. CEOs of multinational corporations are happy to be responsible, and have a great sense of personal satisfaction in keeping water, air, and food safe for everyone across the globe, because they feel invested in being part of one big global family, knowing that we need to look out for one another. The thirst for profit does not a motivate deforestation, strip-mining, sweat-shop labor, prostitution, child slavery, nuclear pollution, war, or any other form of large-scale wrongdoing, because everyone knows that if we all work intelligently together, there are plenty of resources for everyone, and if we all show love and consideration for one another, we will all get it back a thousand-fold. All food is organically grown with no pesticides or genetic engineering, and everyone in the world has access to clean water, nutritious food, and a nice, comfortable place to live. We are all vegetarians, because we all deeply believe in the rights of animals, as well as humans, to live with dignity. No one works for less than minimum wage anywhere in the world, and workers are treated with respect and fairness and when they get old, they and their families are taken care of. Everyone has high quality healthcare and access to sustainable wellness programs. Education of everyone, everywhere, is a priority, at every level of society, from the local community to the international community. Conflict resolution is a basic premise of human interaction and as such, it is taught and reinforced throughout a person’s life. Greed, jealousy, and violence are universally recognized as social illnesses for which humane convalescent centers and effective retraining programs are in place. There are no prisons and no death penalty, because we deeply understand that everyone, with proper care, treatment, and integration into society, can be a loving, productive, and fulfilled human being. Huge employment opportunities exist in the social services sector, because we have learned, as a global society, that humans are our most valuable resource, and the cultivation of the human mind as our richest, most renewable resource, is the universally accepted priority.

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