Director Lucy Walker ( Countdown to Zero, Waste Land ) returns with this beautifully filmed but frustrating documentary short about the aftermath of the Japanese tsunami, set in one of the most dramatically affected areas.
Opening with harrowing amateur footage of the natural disaster, this potent beginning is horrifying and alarming, yet impossible to avert your eyes from. Here onwards, we spend some time within destroyed towns, amongst victims of the tragedy who are attempting to instigate the rebuilding process.
With a running time of about 40-minutes, the necessity to be succinct and focused is evident but unfortunately not adhered to. After the disaster is established in its full horror, the film then attempts to make a metaphorical link between the tsunami and the Japanese fascination with cherry blossom (hence the title), which, every year, signifies the arrival of Spring.
The Japanese attach great significance to the blossom, hosting viewing parties and individually reading their own interpretations into its spiritual and metaphysical properties. The links between the blossom and the tsunami are made clear – there are shots of dead petals being carried down rivers, reflective of homes being swept away by the flood waters, it also blooms amongst the wreckage, in coherence with the rebuilding efforts.
While the representation of hope through the blossom is positive and uplifting, it all feels tenuous and a touch inconsequential in juxtaposition with the sheer horror of the disastrous events. Perhaps it would have been more affective to have placed the shocking home-video footage at the end of the film. The cinematography, while easy on the eye with its soft-focus capturing of the cherry trees, holds little emotional impact in comparison with the stark opening sequence. The Sigur Ross-esque music is also a little grating, with some scenes verging on an inappropriate kitsch.
The film never makes light of the situation, but a more rugged, grounded picture would have been far more affecting. However, ultimately this is a documentary about cherry blossom, contextualised within the tsunami rather than directly about it.