It’s been over a year since the Pacific tsunami that devastated much of Japan’s — seaboard including the Fukushima reactor. Some San Francisco filmmakers are documenting the lives of small-town Japanese people attempting to rebuild after this terrible disaster. Watch as they struggle with information and misinformation, the legacy of other nuclear disasters and the creation of a new story. The footage is moving as it is interesting.

One year after the tragic happenings, many small coastal towns of the northeast of Japan are still struggling with unanswered questions. Is our food safe? Is our water safe?
Lisa Katayama and Jason Wishnow have been delivering a series of webisodes about surfing, nuclear threats and environmental destruction. “We Are All Radioactive” is an intense documentary that should be watched by the Japanese authorities.

While many have left the area, the community that remains is still uncertain as to whether it is safe for them to stay—and surf—in this area. The film project, We Are All Radioactive, seeks to raise awareness and educate the public through the eyes of the local surfers. In the second episode, Katayama introduces Konno-san, an older surfer who has been surfing for 30 years and used to run a hangout called Sunny Day where visiting surfers could eat, hang out, and play music. “Sunny Day still exists, but it’s mostly being used as a volunteer camp now,” says Katayama. “Like most avid surfers, Konno-san can’t really survive without going in the ocean frequently, but the waters off the coast of Motoyoshi are no longer a happy place. Many people lost their homes and their families here, and people fear that the water might be radioactive. So when the stresses of life become too much to bear, he drives 4 to 5 hours to a place where the waters are known to be safe, and surfs there.”

It’s an unlikely transition: from being a contributor at Wired magazine, sharing weird Japanese gadgets and holding a “Win-A-Golden-Poop” cell phone strap contest on her site, Tokyomango, journalist Lisa Katayama is now embarked on a larger project — to tell a story of rebuilding lives in the tsunami-hit fishing town of Motoyoshi, a three-hour drive north of Sendai.

Despite its title, We Are All Radioactive isn’t your typical 90-minute documentary chronicling the destruction caused by the 2011 earthquake or the ensuing radiation scares. In a bid for creative freedom, the production team experiments with crowd-funding on The result? Honest, bite-sized episodes about optimism and resolve among the community. Inspired by TV dramas, Katayama told Japan Times, “We want to build themes for the audience by letting them meet different characters in different episodes. In the next episode you meet more, and the story becomes more complex.”

“To some extent, everyone is shouldering emotional scars. Some people show it on the surface; some don’t,” a fisherman explains in the second chapter of We Are All Radioactive. “These days we have all this medicine and psychologists but in the old days, people just moved on. Why can’t people do that now?” he muses. The crowd-funded documentary series looks at how a fishing community in Japan has coped in the wake of the 2011 tsunami. Lisa Katayama, who produced the project alongside Jason Wishnow, discusses the making of the series in an interview with the Atlantic Video channel, where you can also find the trailer for the series.

The aftermath of the tsunami has affected many communities in a variety of ways. Many people are still afraid of the long-term affects of radiation on their health, have lost trust in the government, and the economic tolls of the event will plague the region for years to come. Furthermore, of all the funding that went to the Tohoku relief effort in the months after the quake, many of these small coastal towns who were affected more directly saw nothing.

With a strong sense of empowerment already underway for not only the locals (half the footage is shot by Wishnow, and the other half is shot by the locals themselves using waterproof cameras), but also curious viewers who have the opportunity to influence future episodes by making suggestions to the producer and director, the We Are All Radioactive project only has two days left for donations to ensure the completion of the first season, and sustain the project for a second season .

Lisa Katayama says:
Last summer, TED film director Jason Wishnow and I went to Japan to visit a small fishing village destroyed by the tsunami. We’d heard from a friend that something unique was happening there — in the absence of official aid from the government and NGOs, a team of young surfers was spearheading reconstruction efforts and teaching fishermen how to make a living now that they couldn’t fish. We decided to film these surfers and fishermen as they went about their everyday lives. And when we left, we gave them digital waterproof cameras so they could continue to document their own experiences from their own point of view.

Journalist Lisa Katayama and filmmaker Jason Wishnow are documenting the lives of people dealing with radiation in a post-earthquake Japan. In We Are All Radioactive, they are including 50% footage made by themselves in the areas around Fukushima Power Plant that had a meltdown after the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, and 50% footage made by residents who were given waterproof digital cameras so they could tell their own story on surviving the earthquake and now dealing with radiation.

ScuttlefishMarch 12, 2012
We Are All Radioactive

We Are All Radioactive is a film directed by my friend Lisa Katayama. It’s about a village of surfers who stop living in the water for fear of the the potential radioactivity left by the Fukushima meltdown. It is also a story of how they come to terms with the disaster and get back to life.

It’s been over a year since Japan was devastated by a Tsunami and the Fukushima power plant meltdown. It’s not fair that some of us get to let those memories slide away but others have to try to go on with washed away homes, empty spaces where loved ones used to be and a world where even the soil and water and plants and food and milk can’t really be trusted anymore. Japan is a wonderful country where I have always felt welcome, and I wish there was something meaningful I could do. For now, I am going to help get the next episode of We Are All Radioactive funded and finished.

We Are All Radioactive is a documentary that follows several people as they live their lives one year later in the fallout from the radiation that was caused by the Fukushima nuclear power plant. They have been living their lives as normal and are determined to stay in their homes. The documentary’s official launch date is this Sunday, March 11, the one year anniversary of the earthquake.

We Are All Radioactive, a forthcoming documentary series, tells the story of one seaside community’s efforts to rebuild in the wake of the 2011 disaster. Motoyoshi, a small town and surf spot about 100 miles from Fukushima, was devastated by the earthquake and tsunami, and now it’s unclear how damaging the effects of the Fukushima meltdown could be. We Are All Radioactive is a collaboration between Lisa Katayama, a journalist for Wired, Fast Company, and The New York Times, and Jason Wishnow, a filmmaker and director of the TEDTalks series, with the support of locals, who are contributing their own footage, and viewers, who are crowd funding the film.


We Are All Radioactive is an online documentary film project that focuses on a group of surfers helping to rebuild northern Japan after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake (and tsunami). The project is by TokyoMango blogger Lisa Katayama and TED film director Jason Wishnow. A fundraising campaign has been started on IndieGoGo to fund each of the episodes. They will make episodes as each financial milestone is reached until April 15, 2012.

You might know Lisa Katayama from her articles on Popular Science, Wired and Fast Company – or perhaps she taught you “everything you ever wanted to know about the birth city of Godzilla, Gundam, all-you-can-eat shabu shabu and panty vending machines” on her blog TokyoMango. It’s clear that Katayama has a true passion for Japan, where she spent the first 18 years of her life, so when disaster hit the country last March, she knew she couldn’t just stand idly by. Her desire to do something led her to create We Are All Radioactive, an online episodic documentary series that follows the lives of surfers and fishermen as they work to rebuild small coastal towns that were affected by the tsunami. The series, produced with TED film director Jason Wishnow, is entirely crowdfunded, meaning that it’s up to you to keep new episodes rolling out. We recently spoke to Lisa about why she decided to start We Are All Radioactive, what we can expect to see in the latest episode, and how funders can actually influence what is shown in coming episodes – choose-your-own-adventure-style.

We Are All Radioactive is an online documentary film project that focuses on a group of surfers helping to rebuild northern Japan after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake (and tsunami). The project is by TokyoMango blogger Lisa Katayama and TED film director Jason Wishnow. A fundraising campaign has been started on IndieGoGo to fund each of the episodes. They will make episodes as each financial milestone is reached until April 15, 2012.

Pop-Up MagazineNovember 9, 2011
Issue No. 5

Features ENVIRONMENT: Surf Report by Lisa Katayama