The film directors who love to flirt with disaster

Film-makers shoot films in Fukushima and Chernobyl

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The Independent Culture

Wherever there is radiation, you will find film-makers. Disasters like the nuclear accident at Chernobyl in 1986 or the Fukushima Daiichi incident in Japan in the spring of 2011 exercise a magnetic pull on the imagination of certain directors.

Japanese auteur Sion Sono has recently been shooting his new sci-fi movie, Whispering Star, in the no-go zone at Fukushima. The film stars his wife, Megumi Kagurazaka.

Interviewed this month at the Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival, Sono acknowledged there were certain hazards in making a movie in an area where the radiation levels are still high. He explained he didn’t “do dangerous things” like touching the ground.

He took a Geiger counter with him and didn’t spend too long in any place where the radiation was bad. As for his leading actress, Kagurazaka, he tried to keep her out of harm’s way. “When I had shot this film, I had just married my wife. Of course, she wants to get married and have babies. Radiation is dangerous for that,” he blithely explained.

Sono’s film has a political dimension. The same can’t be said for zombie movie, Return of the Living Dead 4: Necropolis (2005), part of which was shot in Chernobyl (above), close to the site of the disaster. “Sometimes, it made strange noises,” the director was quoted as saying of the Geiger counter he took with him during shooting of his exploitation pic.

Chernobyl was also the inspiration for a piece by British artists and film-makers, Jane and Louise Wilson. Their 2011 film, The Toxic Camera, is a self-reflexive affair, looking behind the story of a celebrated documentary made by Soviet director Vladimir Shevchenko immediately after the Chernobyl disaster. Shevchenko’s camera itself became so radioactive that it had to be buried. He himself died of radiation poisoning less than a year after being at Chernobyl.

As Jane Wilson explained during an interview earlier this year, Shevchenko achieved something quite extraordinary – he actually “filmed” radiation. “It (radiation) could never be captured on digital formatting. It could only really be captured on analogue, on celluloid. The gamma rays were going through the body of the camera.”

At the time, Shevchenko and his crew thought their equipment had let them down and were going to throw out their footage. In fact, the reason the image was fogging up was that their camera was shooting radiation. The “popping” and “degradation” on the footage were simply the side effects of Shevchenko’s extraordinary feat in managing to film an “invisible enemy” which nobody before had captured on camera.