The Phone of the Wind: Whispers to Lost Families
In a Japanese town devastated by the tsunami of March 2011 stands a booth containing a telephone that’s not connected. This is the Phone of the Wind. People come to “call” loved ones who died in the disaster. They can see their communities being rebuilt, but they’re still struggling with their loss and can’t move forward with their lives. For them, the Phone of the Wind is a way to open their hearts and thereby begin to come to terms with their loss. This documentary gives viewers a chance to hear some of their heartfelt messages.
Japanese people tend to think about the passage of time in chunks of five years. Of course, the significance of a five-year period differs completely from one person to another. When exactly five years had passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, we decided to reach out to survivors, take a candid look at what had happened in their lives, and learn what was in their hearts. The setting was the small, coastal town of Otsuchi in Iwate Prefecture. The town was all but swept away by black tsunami waves. The tsunami and ensuing fires killed 861 people and left 421 missing. The Phone of the Wind stands on a nearby hill. It’s a place where bereaved survivors can express what they’re really feeling (something that’s hard for us journalists to elicit no matter how long we cover the aftermath of the disaster). Survivors who had lost loved ones in a cruel and arbitrary way had kept them in their hearts during five years of struggle in what had become a harsh living environment. For them, repeatedly “calling” their lost loved ones appeared to be an important grieving process; a way to get over their heartbreak and gradually move forward. We conceived this documentary because we felt that documenting the “calls” and showing how the survivors had spent the five years since the disaster would yield a message about loss and recovery; a message that would transcend the subject of the Japanese disaster and resonate with everyone.