DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER KAORU IKEYA IS no stranger to some FCCJ members, who might remember him showing and discussing his award winning Daughter From Yan’an at the Club some 10 years ago. His powerful new documentary, Roots, focusing on recovery efforts in Tohoku after the March 11 disaster, opened last month in Tokyo, the same day it won the Ecumenical Jury Award at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival.

More particularly, the film deals with the efforts of Naoshi Sato, a 77-year-old woodcutter and farmer, to rebuild his home and his life. He witnessed his firefighter son being swept away in front of him, but refuses to move from his ruined house to temporary public housing because the spirits of his ancestors, as well as the spirit of his son, still reside there.

Ikeya documents this determination to rebuild no easy task in the face of bureaucratic governmental obstruction. Still, despite such serious, even tragic themes, the film is suffused with spontaneous moments of humor, and the resolute spirit and good nature of this old woodcutter.

In one scene, Ikeya and his superb cameraman, Masaharu Fukui, show the old man wielding his chainsaw to fell the trees as if he were an artist with a brush. Afterwards, we see him anoint what remains of the tree with sake, bow and clap, expressing his reverence for the natural world and concern that it survives for other generations.

Roots’ Japanese title, Senzo ni naru, literally means something like “I'm going to be an ancestor,” suggesting the importance of viewing what we do in this life as the wood cutter does in his namely that human responsibilities transcend individual births and deaths. Ikeya’s film not only celebrates the essential connections of the living, but of the living to the dead and to the yet to be born. In this narrative of one person’s determination to maintain this value, and the enduring Tohoku spirit, it touches a good part of our own nature.

— Maki Wakiyama

The film is showing at the Image Forum theater in Shibuya. The last show every day has English subtitles. The official website is at

Maki Wakiyama is a freelance columnist, reporter and translator who has published a number of books on ocean resources, biotechnology and other issues.