Japan Tsunami: Tales of Terror on TLC (J!-ENT What’s On TV? Review by Dennis A. Amith)

March 5, 2012 by  

Shocking never-seen-before footage from the Great Tohoku Earthquake!  We have seen video footage of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan back on March 11, 2011 but what was the story behind those who had the camera videotaping the disaster?  And was there more to the footage that was shown on the news and YouTube? There definitely was and you can see more on TLC’s “Japan Tsunami: Tales of the Terror”.

Images courtesy of Discovery Communications, Inc.

Japan Tsunami: Tales of Terror

Premieres March 8 at 9pm ET on TLC

Archive by British Pathe

Contributor Archives by Kei Sato, Yukio Abe, Akira Kato, Kenji Saito, Yu Muroga, Yasuo Kishi, Masao Sato, Shinsuke Itoh, Takayuki Saijo, Mitsuyuki Sasaki, Mitsukuni Kumagai, Yuichi Owada, Yoshinori Sato, Steve Mendoza and Kenichi Murakami

Voices by Meg Kubota, Akiko Sato, Matt Mcooey, Sedao Ueda, Shintaro Taketani, Takasuna Mijkai

Camera by Paul Williams

Sound by Steve Shiro Yasui

Assitant Producer & Translator: Hiroko Nakamura

UK Translator: Sara Noorbakhsh

Executive Producer: Chris Shaw

Written, Produced and Directed by Peter Nicholson

Japan’s Tsunami: Tales of Terror captures the impact of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in March 2011, using amateur footage filmed by those caught up in the disaster.

Featuring rare insider footage, the program gives accounts from eyewitnesses, amateur photographers and video enthusiasts, whose initial desire to record the tsunami was quickly overtaken by the cataclysmic events that unfolded in front of them.

But they kept on filming, many while only narrowly escaping with their lives.

The eyewitness film captures some apocalyptic images of the wave’s destructive power: Takayuki Saijo only just made it up a hill in time to see the town of Kamaishi destroyed beneath him; Kenichi Murakami had to run for his life, climbing a high-school fire escape while filming the carnage below; and Yu Muroga narrowly escaped death as his car (with its on-board camera) was swept away in the torrential current and then sank.

Beyond the immediate horror of the tsunami, the film, made seven months after the event, also grapples with the aftermath: the loss, uncertainty and long-term trauma faced by individuals and towns struggling to come to terms with whether they can or should rebuild their shattered communities.

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit the coast of Japan and was one of the top 5 most powerful earthquakes ever recorded.

The earthquake triggered a powerful tsunami with waves reaching as high as 135 ft. and triggered a level 7 nuclear meltdown. The Japanese National Police Agency confirmed the deaths of 15,850 people and 3,287 remain missing.

While news crews were able to capture aerial footage, the news footage that people have watched were from normal people who were at the areas that were devastated and for millions of people all over the world, this footage was broadcast on the news and many have seen it on YouTube.

But only edited versions of the footage made it on to the news and YouTube.

With the anniversary of the Great Tohoku Earthquake on March 11th, TLC will be airing “Japan Tsunami: Tales of Terror” at 9pm/ET and visits the five towns that were hit by earthquake which triggered a devastating tsunami.

In each city, the special program features interviews with each of the individuals who captured the devastation in their town but also the footage shows additional footage that many news shows had edited out.  In the additional footage, we see people who are running from the tsunami waves that crashed into the town and enveloped it within seconds.

As many people ran to get to safety, some didn’t think it was so bad that they casually walked.  Only the people who were in the hills knew how bad it was and how it was tearing down homes and crashing vehicles and boats together.  And the camera continued to shoot as the tsunami reaches towards them.

While the footage of the program does not show the individuals struggling for their life or dying, this is footage that many people had not seen before.  Especially the point of where people are hit by the initial tsunami waves.

The first town hit by the tsunami was Kamaishi.  Akira Kato, a cable TV cameraman had his camera on and he evacuated with others above a hill and he recorded the city being engulfed by the tsunami and the reactions to the people while it was happening.

The second town hit by the tsunami was Ofunato, business owner Kenji Saito filmed with his iPhone as he had employees evacuate out of their office to higher elevation.  Kenji’s footage shown the footage of homes and people being swept away.  His footage catches the cries of people who cursed the levees that didn’t protect the village.  Other footage showed people who watched their own homes being swept up.

The third city hit was the low lying coastal plain, Minamisanriku.  This footage features missionary Kei Sato capturing the footage of the tsunami devastation in the town.  He also captured Kuniko Suzuki and others older women trying to escape their homes and make it to high elevation, but the waves hit the town too quickly for them to escape.  But for Kuniko, she was fortunate to survive the tsunami as the footage would show how she actually survived.  Mitsuyki Sasaki, a teacher and amateur photographer was there to photograph the devastation as it happened.  Also, featuring footage captured by volunteer firefighter Yuichi Owada who tried to rescue as many people as possible by trying to direct them to leave to higher elevation via loudspeaker and checking the levee for the water level and the panic and chaos that took place when the tsunami hit.

The fourth city hit was Kesennuma, the heart of the region’s fishing industry. While Kenichi Murakami, a retired director of a fish processing plant talked about how he barely managed to escape from the tsunami, Yasuo Kishi, a retired tuna fisherman didn’t think the tsunami waves would be that bad.  So, he was videotaping right next to the water, despite his family having gone to higher elevation to escape the tsunami.  While Yasuo managed to survive by climbing up a tree, his footage captures the waves hitting the town and he being right in the area as it happened.

The final city hit by the tsunami was Tagajo.  Train conductor Shinsuke Itoh was at higher elevation filming the reaction to the tsunami coming towards his city.  Meanwhile, Yu Muroga, a medical salesman had his camera on his car and he was among the many who were trapped in traffic while the tsunami hit the city.  Yu Muroga’s footage features him videotaping while his car was floating on water.  His footage also captures the people who were swept by the tsunami and were trying to survive by grabbing on to debris, while others were stuck on top of their vehicles.

Shocking never-seen-before footage!  For those who want to see how a tsunami can envelop and destroy a town within seconds, “Japan Tsunami: Tales of Terror” is a TLC program that shows how deadly a tsunami can be and how some people miscalculated the destruction of a tsunami.

As mentioned, the footage shows much more than what was shown on the news and on YouTube.  The footage shows people who were planning to ride out the tsunami by staying in their homes, others who felt they didn’t have to outrun the tsunami and walked casually until the tsunami came within seconds and hit them.

This is footage that I have never seen before, as the videos themselves, I have seen bits and pieces that were shown on YouTube, Japanese, US and international news footage but never have I seen people running for their lives and then getting hit within seconds.

Watching the footage, it appeared people miscalculated how much time they had.  I believe that so many thought the levees that were to protect them from tsunami’s would be high enough and that would afford them to leave when they felt fit. You can hear the frustration of the people in higher elevation screaming for the people to run for their lives.  People wondering why they weren’t running but walking.

And obviously there was footage where people felt there was no sign that the tsunami would hit them, but as one man said from a devastate city, it was an ominous silence that felt eery.  You couldn’t hear anything around the city and within seconds, the tsunami hit.  And when it hit, the water was powerful and it knocked down buildings and vehicles.

And for some of these individuals who were right there when the tsunami hit, a few of them were very fortunate to survive as they were able to escape in a vehicle within seconds going to higher elevation, while one man got lucky in the fact that he was able to climb up a tree.

But possibly the most surprising is Yu Muroga’s footage.  Yu confesses that he was naive about earthquakes and a tsunami coming after.  He lived in inland Japan and was traveling to a city which was hit by a tsunami.  As he saw the city enveloped by water and he saw people around him clinging to debris, people being swept away and people on top of the cars, he didn’t panic.  He figured if he was going to die, he was going to die.  Otherwise, if he lives, hopefully wherever his car ends up, he can escape.  And surprisingly, his footage was a shock to people because he was one of the few people who was caught in traffic and lived through a tsunami and second, he was the few who was able to record the entire ordeal.

“Japan Tsunami: Tales of Terror” was actually quite surprising.  Having reported on the tsunami disaster and watching Japanese television as it happened, while viewing countless videos posted on YouTube, I’ve always seen the same footage over and over and figured that most people (where the camera was focused) escaped to high ground.  But now seeing the extra footage, this was not the case.

There were people running for their lives and it was caught on camera, there were people casually walking and that was caught on camera and of course, people who were caught in the traffic jam, these were caught on camera.  This was the first time I have seen this footage and I found it quite heartbreaking to see how people miscalculated the tsunami, but most importantly seeing how quick it hit the area where those people were at.

If anything, I’m glad that TLC didn’t show what happened to those individuals after they were hit by the tsunami waves.  We see enough to see the waves reach them, but the video footage is edited, so we don’t see anyone struggling or dying in the water.

There was one haunting image from Yu Muroga’s footage of a person who left her car to outrun the tsunami but was caught in the water and you can see her trying to grab on to debris.  We see a few seconds of her grabbing on to something and then we hear Yu talk about that woman being swept away.

Overall, “Japan Tsunami: Tales of Terror” may be too painful for some to watch, while those who are curious about tsunami disasters will probably be surprised by the additional never-before-seen footage of people running for their lives and being hit by the initial tsunami waves and then being caught in many feet of water.

It’s not an easy thing to watch but at the same time, “Japan Tsunami: Tales of Terror” does end in the positive note that the people of Japan know they must overcome this tragedy and rebuild.  But most importantly, knowing how this tsunami disaster destroyed their city and took so many lives, perhaps they can be better prepared if a tsunami ever happens in that region again.

Japan Tsunami: Tales of Terror premieres March 8 at 9pm ET on TLC

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