Horses of Fukushima/ Matsuri no Uma / 祭の馬
Yojyu Matsubayashi returns to the scene of the 3.11 tragedy to document the fate of several equine survivors in Horses of Fukushima. Matsubayashi, arguably, already made the best doc on the disaster, Fuukushima: Memories of the Lost Landscape. His followup is beautiful and devastating. The rescued horses that he follows suffer from several maladies – radiation poisoning, broken and infected limbs, the effects of malnutrition and starvation. They are matter-of-factly doctored, fed and “rescued” by their keepers, basically to show them off at the Soma-Nomaoi, a traditional Shinto horse festival. However, unlike the usual rah rah docs that celebrate the recovery and resuscitation of normal life in Tohoku, Matsubayashi continually lets the images undercut any sense of what is happening to these horses as a good thing. The offhand cruelty of their keepers, the miserable conditions that the horses are kept in, the absurdity of the Soma-Nomaoi – now a meaningless tradition that’s all about the show, rather than being connected to a real past – are shown without comment, but with a weathering critique of the “recovery.”
Originally published in EL Magazine, December 2013.