Global Issues

Surfers who stayed: The video documentary “We Are All Radioactive”

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May

Autumn and Yuji are surfers who fell in love on the beach of Motoyoshi, a beautiful spot in Japan above Sendai where northern and southern currents meet. A month after Motoyoshi was hit by a tsunami in 2011, triggering a nuclear disaster at the nearby Fukushima Daiichi power plant, the two made a startling decision — they came back to help with cleanup.

Autumn and Yuji are both profiled in We Are All Radioactive, an episodic documentary created by journalist Lisa Katayama and former TED video director Jason Wishnow. The film introduces us to the many members of a tight-knit surfing community in Japan that rallied together to rebuild a demolished coastal town. This doc reminds us quite a bit of Michael Forster Rothbart’s new TED Book, Would You Stay?, which tells the story (in words and pictures) of people living in Chernobyl and Fukushima despite the risk of radiation. Because as these surfers work hard to rebuild the area they love, they also have to contend with a serious question: Are they damaging their health by staying?

“There’s worry that people have in their stomachs. Fear about whether you’re safe or not, about whether the decisions you’re making for your family are the rights ones,” says Autumn in Chapter One of this documentary. “Until someone gives us believable data and a ground you can stand on to make a real decision, people are going to have this stress in the pit of their stomach… We’re all just regular people — farmers, freaking surfers and fishermen — trying to figure out nuclear and radiation data. I wish someone who had any clue what they were talking about — and that didn’t have an agenda — would come here and just give us the thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Is it that hard?”

Autumn and Yuji are just two of the people in Motoyoshi profiled in We Are All Radioactive. Watch the seven episodes of the documentary to meet Kikuchi, a veteran bluefin tuna fisher; Rob, a bartender in Tokyo who left his life behind to help; Konno, a surfer whose home was washed away by the tsunami; Higashi, a father of five making beautiful objects from the rubble. And throughout the series, you’ll also meet humanitarian workers and radiation experts who are trying to give people the clear answer that Autumn is looking for.