Fukushima 50 is a Japanese film telling the true story of the 2011 Fukushima Disaster. After an earthquake, a nuclear power plant is struck and badly damaged. Tragically, as the power plant is placed right on the coast, the enormous tsunami that follows submerges the plant. The electricity is knocked out. Without any power, the workers must manually prevent an explosion which could take out a third of Japan.
Firstly, let’s address the elephant in the room. Yes, this film is very similar to the HBO miniseries Chernobyl. Though it’s slightly unfair to compare the two as Fukushima was its own tragedy. It’s fair to say that without the success of the HBO show, however, this film probably wouldn’t have been made. With that being said, there are several scenes in Fukushima 50 that feel like they’ve been ripped straight from Chernobyl. One egregious example is when a scientist is explaining to a government official the gravity of the situation whilst travelling to the plant in a helicopter with two rotors. If you don’t know what scene I’m referring to, just look up the trailer for Chernobyl.
Although they share very similar plot beats and scenes, Fukushima 50 doesn’t quite reach the heights of Craig Mazin and Johan Renck’s ground-breaking series. This is for a variety of reasons. There aren’t really any stand out characters or performances (along with some truly awful American ones). Ken Wantanabe is a welcome presence but he doesn’t quite shine as he does in many other performances. The film is also very melodramatic. This isn’t unfamiliar territory for Japanese media, as Anime fans will know. Several scenes start with groups of people bursting into rooms screaming and shouting, sometimes even collapsing to the floor. The film can cut to completely irrelevant flashbacks to the childhoods of characters we only meet for basically one scene. Other times we’ll be treated to animated history and science lessons explaining previous nuclear disasters and the reasons they happen.
The overzealous drama can work in the film’s favour on occasion. There are some dream sequences of the repercussions of failing to stop the explosion. These are quite scary and work to improve the tension. The style also helps the film’s pacing greatly. Fukushima 50 drops you right into the action and keeps its grip on you until the very end. This makes the film feel shorter than it is. However, it does sacrifice characters. There isn’t really much time to tell us anything about the people in the plant. A lack of character development means that a lot of the emotional scenes don’t quite hit as hard as the director would want them to. Though films about real events are often more story than character-driven anyway.
Fukushima 50 is definitely a film you should watch if you loved Chernobyl. It may not be as good but it shows you another horrible nuclear disaster. A disaster that instead of being covered up for years, was instead used as a lesson for future generations.
Dir: Setsuro Wakamatsu
Scr: Yoichi Maekawa
Cast: Ken Wantanabe, Koichi Sato, Hidetaka Yoshioka, Naoto Ogata
Prd: Tsuguhiko Kadokawa
Music: Taro Iwashiro
Runtime: 120 mins
FUKUSHIMA 50 WILL BE RELEASED ON ALTITUDE.FILM AND ALL DIGITAL PLATFORMS ACROSS THE UK & IRELAND FROM 8 MARCH