Monday, September 26, 2011


He was a quiet man, the driver. Not that he didn't like to talk or anything, just in that way the Japanese are. Mannered and proud. Contemplative. His car, an aging minivan, was always polished to a high shine despite the places he was working in, his suit always impeccably clean. Each day he'd greet us with effusive handshakes, bows and smiles.

It's fair to say that we liked him immediately, Wattanabe-san.

A regular taxi driver in the quiet city of Sendai until the 11th March, his life had been irrevocably changed by the disaster in a different way than one would expect. Lucky to have escaped the earthquake and the tsunami unscathed; it was the influx of press and media who rushed to his corner of eastern Japan that changed his livelihood from daily city driving to becoming the kind of go-to guy that the media business survives on.

It had been a big leap. Suddenly his normal routine was gone and he found himself working in situations he never thought imaginable, witnessing the aftermath of a national tragedy first hand and learning how the news gets made.

We were no different, the crew of 'Snakedance', relying on his knowledge and his stories to help director Manu Riche and writer Patrick Marnham get a sense of what they might expect from different locations and what the context of each place was.

I felt compelled to take images of Wattanabe in our downtime, dressed as he was, for a funeral.

Always there, hands crossed, staring out at the devastation. He communicated to me in those moments of reflection about how deeply this disaster had affected the people of Japan. I wondered how many times he had visited places like Yuriage and Natori and the subtle differences he was observing in these landscapes as his countrymen began the mammoth clear up. I wondered too how he felt about working with the media and their need to pry into the lives of ordinary people.

I wondered about Wattanabe and almost didn't have the chance to ask him these questions. Finally on the last day in his car on our way back to Fukushima train station to catch the bullet train to Tokyo we had the chance to hear his thoughts.

In choosing the music for this short, editor Carter Gunn sent me this synopsis relating to the track he had chosen:

Sai-bara is a kind of gagaku song that is grew out of the folk songs of horsemen….basically the folk song of someone who owns a horse and sort of used the horse like a taxi cab (holding the reins while the rich person rode on the horse, because the rider is above the horse person in class)…
Sai-bara was eventually, during the 700′s, influenced by gagaku or entered the canon of gagaku and became more of a proper song.