REACT to The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

A day after the one-year anniversary of the March 11th tsunami in Japan, the Center for Civic Engagement and REACT to FILM, along with co-sponsors The Institute for Asia and Asian Diasporas, Student United Way, Asian Outlook, and Sigma Alpha Lambda, hosted a screening of Lucy Walker’s The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, a film showcasing tsunami survivors amidst the backdrop of cherry blossom season. The 40-minute film opens with news video footage of the tsunami itself, and follows the healing path of the people of Japan through interviews with those living in the areas hit hardest by the disaster. Walker then transitions to cherry blossom season, a time that inspires the Japanese to be strong and hopeful despite their struggles.

Over 55 students, faculty, staff, and community members attended the event on Monday night, and many stayed to participate in a follow-up discussion led by Professor Herbert Bix of the History and Sociology Departments, Associate Professor David Stahl, Chair of the Asian and Asian American Studies Department, and Assistant Professor Roberta Strippoli, also of the AAAS Department.

Professor Strippoli opened with a discussion about the cherry blossom flower and its meaning to the Japanese as portrayed in literature, a meaning that has changed over time but always held a significant place in Japanese culture. Professor Stahl offered a critical view of the film from a perspective based in trauma studies, noting that the film was heavy-handed in its effort to portray Japan as having been healed when, in reality, there is still much work and grieving to be done. Finally, Professor Bix added a historical and political perspective, focusing on the effects of Fukushima, the influence of the new Japanese government, and the increased participation in protests by the Japanese middle class since the tsunami.

The audience quickly joined in to ask questions and discuss different issues, including more about the Fukushima accident and what has been happening in Japan since the tsunami. Binghamton University senior Samantha Grieco, President of Sigma Alpha Lambda, compared what she saw in the film to what she witnessed on  CCE’s 2011 alternative spring break trip to New Orleans, in which students helped residents of the Gulf Coast rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. Although people were returning to a semblance of normalcy, the amount of recovery still needed was tremendous. Grieco added that she had never seen people “more thankful for help.”

While it is sometimes helpful to focus on the positive in the wake of disaster, there are still many parts of Japan in dire need of assistance. During the month of March, REACT to FILM will donate $1 to Beyond Tomorrow's Great East Japan Earthquake Reconstruction Assistance Project for every new “like” on their Facebook page. Another easy way to help is by joining Paper Cranes for Japan in their quest to raise $200,000 to support the rebuilding efforts of Japanese architects. To stay up on Japan’s progress and the Fukushima accident, including how it has affected power programs around the world, read the Japan Times online.

Keep an eye out for announcements about our upcoming community issues forums! Next month, on April 10th, we will be focusing on Invisible Children's “Kony 2012” campaign and on April 16th, the film Living for 32. Follow the CCE and sign up for our newsletter to stay in the loop!

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