Chins up after last year's disaster
News On Japan via New York Times -- Mar 16

If making a decent movie required only good intentions, then "Pray for Japan" would be off and running. As it is, though, this muddled collage of random impressions and personal histories, emerging from last year's destruction of the Tohoku coastline by the earthquake and tsunami, doesn't document a tragedy so much as repeat a mantra. Specifically, "live tough" and soldier on. Adopting a soothing, self-abnegating tone - Everyone works together! Food for all or no food for anyone! - consistent with its title, this relentlessly inspirational ode to human resilience soon morphs into a repetitive, if well-deserved, high-five to volunteerism.

Filming over six weeks in Ishinomaki, once the region's largest coastal city, Stu Levy, the American founder of the beleaguered manga publishing house Tokyopop, interrupts his own volunteer efforts to capture the struggles of others. Cloyingly sentimental poetry by Ryoichi Wago (read by Kyoka Suzuki) peppers the childlike narrative, while paintings of cherry blossoms float serenely in the background.

Virtually ignoring footage of the actual disaster, Mr. Levy commits to an onward-and-upward thrust that glosses over logistics and anything remotely unsavory. Everyone is either a saint (an admirable school principal tirelessly rounding up his students) or a victim (a musician who lost four family members); everyone has hope and a positive attitude.

But these exhausted survivors with their shattered lives need a lot more than prayer and platitudes, and Mr. Levy might have scared up more cash had he shown more hardship. (The film's proceeds will go to the nonprofit JEN, a relief organization.) Natural disasters might bring out the best in people but not necessarily in filmmakers.

Source: New York Times



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