Pray For Japan (2012)

Originally posted at Toronto Film Scene.

On March 11, 2011, a devastating 9.0 earthquake and tsunami destroyed the Tohoku coastal region in Japan. Director Stu Levy, an American living in Tokyo, immediately set out to volunteer. Over a six-week period, Levy alternated between filming and offering his help as a volunteer. Over 50 hours of footage was edited down to make the 97 minute documentary Pray For Japan. On March 14, 2012, the film will have a one day charity screening at AMC Yonge & Dundas 24at 7:00 pm.

Pray For Japan covers four different areas throughout the film. Family, school, volunteers, and shelter. By focusing on these aspects during the tragedy, we’re able to witness the tremendous strength of the survivors and the different ways that people come together to help each other. The region of Ishinomaki, Miyagi, the largest city in Tohoku with a population of over 160,000 people, is where Pray For Japan was filmed. The destruction is staggering. The entire region has literally been washed away, leaving nothing behind but mud and debris. It’s incredibly sad, but the film has a message of hope, and the people in the region have an inner strength that will not be defeated.

The opening moments of the film show footage during the earthquake and resulting tsunami, and it’s frightening. One can only imagine the fear that would be coursing through you as the waves begin crashing against the shore and the water begins to rise. As quickly as it began, it’s over, leaving nothing behind. It’s here that the film moves into the four different perspectives, beginning with shelter. We start to hear the stories of various people living in the shelters. For the first few days, there was no food or water. There wasn’t even a way for rescue workers to reach survivors. Now we begin to understand the kind of courage it takes to truly survive such a disaster.

There’s a spirit to Japan that is rarely witnessed anywhere else. Its residents are proud but humble and strong but thoughtful — and they refuse to give up. There’s a quote near the end of the film that sums it up quite well, “A massive earthquake, a giant tsunami — most people would cry out in pain. But our people simply accept it. That’s our soul.” They’re not angry that this has happened. They pick themselves up and come together to do what has to be done. This can be our chance to do something to help.

A one-time charity screening will be held at AMC Yonge & Dundas 24 at 7: pm on March 14, 2012. All profits from these screenings will be donated to Japan-based charity Japan Emergency NGO (JEN). For more information, please visit the Pray For Japan website.

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