Thursday, November 22, 2012

Superstorm USA: Caught on Camera

The BBC touts Superstorm USA: Caught on Camera  as
The first great natural disaster documented and shared on the social network

Hang on a second.. This is barely a year and a half after the Great Tohoku Earthquake, which if I recall correctly the BBC (and others) hailed as the most recorded natural disaster in history..

I guess in another couple of years we'll be saying the same thing when some other prominent country is devastated by natural disaster..

I guess you could argue that most of the footage we saw of the Tohoku Earthquake was CCTV and other video footage, but to say that Earthquake wasn't well documented in the social networks in Japan is also totally false. In fact, take a look for yourself! I wrote a blog article commenting about that documentation here, here and here.

I guess all the above quote really proves is the West-centric viewpoint of the media, which is hardly surprising, and I suppose forgivable overall.

What I would say, watching the program is how out of proportion everything is. The superstorm was a great survival victory for the US. In its summary, Wikipedia states:

In Jamaica, winds left 70% of residents without electricity, blew roofs off buildings, killed one, and caused about $55.23 million (2012 USD) in damage. In Haiti, Sandy's outer bands brought flooding that killed at least 54, caused food shortages, and left about 200,000 homeless. In the Dominican Republic, two died. In Puerto Rico, one man was swept away by a swollen river. In Cuba, there was extensive coastal flooding and wind damage inland, destroying some 15,000 homes, killing 11, and causing $2 billion (2012 USD) in damage. In The Bahamas, two died amid an estimated $300 million (2012 USD) in damage.

Of the US it states just:
 In the United States, Hurricane Sandy affected 24 states, including the entire eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine and west across the Appalachian Mountains to Michigan and Wisconsin, with particularly severe damage in New Jersey and New York. Its storm surge hit New York City on October 29, flooding streets, tunnels and subway lines and cutting power in and around the city.
Its hard to sympathize with a band of Americans screaming about their car getting crushed by a tree (from the relative safety of their house) when I'm concurrently relating that with the media images of Japan's disaster.

That's not to say I shouldn't sympathize. I've the pleasure of sailing through life without even a broken bone, my closest encounter with disaster is having my foot run over. Rather gently at that...

But nor would I say the program was actually particularly bad, the events within are certainly newsworthy. Just somewhat blown out of proportion. We live in a modern society with modern comforts and next-to-no-reason to complain. What you don't get much sense of in the documentary is the ability of developed society to overcome the situation. Simply (and to get back to where we began so I can shut my big mouth), the program just doesn't do what it claims it set out to. If they wanted to show how a natural disaster was captured in modern social networks they were looking in the wrong place. Probably we're not even talking about the Japanese earthquake anymore.. Surely the trend started some time before even that? Social networks and viral videos were around when I was still at school... I just can't remember any disasters from back then. And neither can anyone else, because we just don't care.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Admiral (A film by Shohei Kotaki)

I'm not one for doing film reviews, but I found this one interesting for a few reasons.

But first some introduction. It's called "The Admiral" or in Japanese "Isoroku Yamamoto, the Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet", and is the story of Admiral Yamamoto's command of the attack on Pearl Harbour, and the naval defeats that followed. The story hinges on Yamamoto's desire for peace, as evidenced in his (highly unpopular) opposition to joining against the allies as war commenced in Europe, and attempts to dissuade government from war with America. However, Yamamoto is "promoted" out of naval government to the position of Admiral, where he must obey his orders to attack America.

Having only read up to the Meiji era in Jansen's "The Making of Modern Japan" (my bible on the history of Japan), it was good to watch a film about this grey area in my picture of history, though I can't comment much on its accuracy.

So, as a non-cinema-goer, what is so interesting, then? Firstly is the essential Japanese-ness of this film. Yamamoto is torn between his desire for peace (his personal duty to his country), and his need to fulfil his duty to his superiors. This burden of conflicting duty is Japanese enough, but to cap it off, until very near the end, Yamamoto says hardly a word about this conflict, and through much of the film exudes a cheery disposition as if somehow everything is going swimmingly. Extreme internalisation of one's problems. Its so stereotypical that had the film been made in the West, it could be construed as racist (hah).

Apart from deepening my already well-indulged stereotypes, the timing of the film is also interesting. It is set in a time of heightened Japanese Nationalism that was key for support in the war. But this fits ominously into modern politics. Relations between Japan and China have been getting steadily worse over the last few years, and there are reports of an increase in nationalism in Japan. That report also blames China of the same. I've no idea how much of either claim is true, but it makes me sad. Both sides should know better, right?! It seems to me that Japanese Nationalism was a key factor to precipitating war with America and probably China too. For both China and Japan the war was devastating beyond comprehension (beyond mine at any rate). The film ends:
"When and how did we go wrong? And what did we lose? The answer to that may have to wait 50 or 100 years... But that might also be enough time for the people of our country to forget everything."
I can't help but wonder this myself.

The film itself was quite enjoyable to watch, with more emphasis on military politics than on raw combat, which I think is a good thing in this case, where the Japanese side of events is decidedly unrepresented. Kudos to the translators, who make understanding what is going on very easy, and though there are a couple of references that non-Japan-history-buffs will miss out on, the film is quite accessible. As a piece of cinematography? Ask someone else. All I'll say is that I liked the actors, the effects were OK, but I felt the story was a bit slow, begging for a bit more fleshing out or less use of the dramatic pause.