No Man’s Zone (2011)

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It’s worth remembering that just when you think that you’ve seen everything along comes nature, be it Mother Nature or human nature, to prove you wrong.

There have been many shocking sights on the news in my lifetime but only two have made me literally stop in my tracks and try to refute what I was seeing. The first was 9/11, an event that resonated worldwide and has impacted upon my generation in much the same way that the assassination of JFK affected my elders. The second astonishing news item that shook me to my very core was the footage of the tsunami that devastated Japan last year. I have many Japanese friends, both online and in real life, and simply couldn’t begin to understand what they were going through as they saw their country torn apart by a force of nature.

No Man’s Zone looks at that tragedy but it also looks beyond it, to the ongoing damage being caused by the destabilised Fukushima nuclear power station. Beyond the central subject matter, this interesting documentary also examines how we need to see events to believe in them and to remember them. It considers our appetite for distressing imagery and then addresses desensitisation whenever media saturation occurs but also, paradoxically, the need to document such events and then ensure that the people affected are getting the necessary help. In some ways this turns into the cinematic equivalent of the question “if a tree falls in the woods with nobody around to hear it does it make a sound?” and, overall, the answer would appear to be that there should always be someone on hand to record news and relay it to others.

I’m not going to speak for everyone but I will assume that a LOT of people have gone on with their lives as I did – somehow assuming that Japan was getting itself back on track and that their major troubles were over. No Man’s Zone reminds viewers that out of sight shouldn’t always mean out of mind and paints a troubling picture of an area set to suffer for a long, long time yet.

A thought-provoking and haunting film, director Toshi Fujiwara loads almost every scene with a multitude of questions, either on the surface or simply waiting to spring out on audiences while they take in every detail. And the footage is shot without any added sensationalism or quick editing to pile on the impact, no such tricks are required. The narration is as concise and intelligent as it is poetic. It’s the biggest plus alongside that unbelievable, and horrifying, imagery.

There are a number of downsides though. The music starts off as a nice and ethereal piece but soon starts to grate. The people being interviewed are often sidetracked into doing little more than pointing to places that used to have a lot more standing there. And the whole thing feels like it could have been cut down by a good 10 or 15 minutes but I’m not entirely comfortable even making that suggestion because this is an invaluable reminder and a record of something that we need to keep in our minds, for a number of reasons.

A movie just as equally haunted by the living as it is by the dead (as, I’m sure, was partly intended by Fujiwara), No Man’s Zone is a tough one to watch at times but a worthwhile viewing to make an effort for.

No Man’s Zone is showing on Sat 23 June (14:15) at Cineworld and Wed 27 June (17:45) at Filmhouse 3.

Director: Toshi Fujiwara
Narrator: Arsinee Khanjian
Runtime: 105 Mins Approx
Country: Japan, France

Film Rating: ★★★½☆

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