I saw the film “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom” on HBO recently. What an amazing film about the power of humans to transcend tragedy, as well as the resilience of nature. The filmmaker, Lucy Walker, was going to make a short film about the Japanese fascination with the cherry blossom, which is evidently a very important part of their culture. Then the tsunami hit, and she integrated the two stories in a fabulously beautiful way.
Some of the Japanese interviewed say the cherry blossom is revered because of its ephemeral nature—it blooms for just a few days and then is gone. They even love it when the petals fall from the trees; among their many names for the blossoms is one for “fallen petals in water.” A man who raises cherry trees, who is descended from a long line of cherry-tree growers, said, “perceiving transience heightens appreciation.” This is the message of the film: life is short and when we think it’s going to go on forever we take things for granted. When we are in touch with the truth that life can be taken from us at any moment, we appreciate every moment. That may sound trite, but this film says it in such a graceful way it feels fresh and powerful.
The film begins with a stunning video of the tsunami coming towards the camera, taken from a hillside above a town, with residents of the town all around exclaiming as they watch the destruction unfold. At first you can’t really see anything happening, the wave is so far away, and then you can’t believe your eyes as it comes towards you and it becomes clear how vast the devastation is. The wave ends up almost reaching the hillside and the sense of panic is communicated through the voices of the people all around; it’s an emotionally gripping experience.
The beauty of Japanese culture comes across in the second half of the film as the cherry blossoms begin to open among the destroyed houses: the reverence across age groups and gender for the beauty of a flower. There’s the sense of a poetic nature that seems to me to be totally missing from American culture, and when I see a depiction of a culture that has it, I really feel the lack.