Pray for Japan


“Most people would cry out in pain,” says a Japanese man in director Stu Levy’s documentary Pray for Japan. “Our people accept it.” He isn’t speaking of resignation or defeat in the face of a natural disaster but rather a cultural, spiritual, and psychological connection to the world that recognizes its inherent unpredictability and violence. There is also beauty in humanity, which Levy captures while documenting the aftermath of last year’s horrific earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan. Filmed over a period of six weeks and supplemented with animated music sequences and chilling news footage of the terrifying deluge, Pray is both an elegy and a love letter. Subjects ranging from school teachers to musicians to Indian immigrants recount both the day of the tsunami and weeks of desperate recovery, when the search for lost family members seemed hopeless given the tons of debris to be sorted through. But the film firmly arches toward hope—in a voiceover written by poet Ryoichi Wago and read by actress Kyoka Suzuki, and in showing the generosity of volunteers from around the world. Hope is especially present in a drumming ceremony in memory of the dead, which provides a catharsis for the people on-screen and for the viewer taking it all in.

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