With the south-eastern Australian floods of 2022 still ongoing at the point of writing, the horror we see on TV is heartbreaking. While some believe the tragedy has passed, for others it is just beginning, with many left homeless as a result. Similar events to these are featured in In the Wake, a film amongst the selection for Australia’s 2022 Japanese Film Festival.
Nine years after the devastating 2011, Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami which left over 19,000 dead, two murders take place in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. The victims are welfare officer Tadakatsu Mikumo (Eita Nagayama) and social welfare vice chairman Tekeru Jonouchi (Naoto Ogata). Both by all accounts were upstanding citizens who have broken their backs to help rebuild and assist the Japanese people. Both were tortured and left to starve in horrific acts of cruelty.
Detective Sargent Seiichiro Tomashino (Hiroshi Abe), himself left a widower by the tsunami, is put in charge of the investigation. Yasuhisa Tone (Takeru Satoh), a 30-something welder fresh out of prison for arson against a government building becomes the chief suspect. With the city of Sendai haunted by the past, Tomashino rushes to save a potential 3rd victim and to find out why this is happening.
Based on Nakayama Shichiri‘s 2018 novel 護られなかった者たちへ (To Those Who Were Not Protected) this is quite a harrowing film from director Takahisa Zeze. I have seen movies set in the aftermath of disasters before but often they feel like just a backdrop. In the Wake while focused on a murder investigation is more about the impact that disaster has had on every character. Moreover, the issue of government assistance and welfare services in the aftermath is brought up. These are topics I did not at all expect to see tackled in a murder mystery film and I was pleasantly surprised by it.
The Tōhoku disaster was of course something with wide reaching impact, especially throughout that part of the world. However, these themes of anger for mishandling of emergency relief efforts are something which can be universally understood. I was taken aback by how much I identified with people thousands of kilometres away over government ineptitude. While at the same time, understanding that the individual welfare officers themselves deserve respect for what they need to deal with.
This is something I loved about In the Wake. It approaches this societal issue from many directions, with none treated as the ‘correct’ view. The social workers are shown as being caring people… who can make mistakes. People in need of a handout are shown as honest… although there are exceptions. Not afraid to get its hands dirty, the film highlights those who are in the shadow of such immense destruction can be forgotten about.
Performances throughout the film are impressive. Even actors with characters that are only given one scene give it their all. In the lead is Hiroshi Abe who, as always, turns in an excellent performance. The character of Tomashino is one brimming with emotion that he just manages to keep in check.
Takeru Satoh on the other hand is explosive with his anger and rage on full display. Through the film’s ample use of flashbacks, we see how in the immediate aftermath of the disaster he tried to put his life back together. Along with young girl Kan-chan (Misaki Ishii), and the elderly Kei (Mitsuko Baisho), these three lost souls form a new family which was extremely touching to see on screen. Indeed, I found this as interesting if not more so than the criminal investigation plot itself.
In The Wake is a sad and powerful film for many reasons, reminding us that even with the passage of time, catastrophic events such as these leave scars which may never heal. With what some Australians are going through right now, the message of In the Wake may hit closer than you would expect. This is an excellent film to honour ‘those who were not protected’.
The 2022 Japanese Film Festival is on from November through to December and is screening In The Wake in Canberra, Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney.
For more information, dates, times, and ticketing, visit: