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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Film from the Rubble

Apr. 14, 2017

A new film set in Kumamoto's disaster area chronicles the residents' struggle to recover from the quakes.

Its title is "Ça va?" which means "How are you?" in French.

The story takes place 6 months after the fateful day.

Although the story is fictional, it's based on actual events.

Isao Yukisada started shooting in his hometown last October. One of the locations was where a bridge once stood. It had been a town landmark.

He thought that making a film about the townspeople might help to encourage them.

"I want to capture the current state of the reconstruction process. It's not a documentary. But I’ve woven footage of people I've talked to into it. I wanted to capture the feelings of people who decided to stay, and who've worked hard to rebuild their lives,” says Yukisada.

Instead of using sets, Yukisada got permission to film in the disaster zone, including at a quake-damaged house.

The main character finds what he's looking for in a collapsed house. It's owned by a gardener named Seiji Shimano. He and his wife and son lived here for about 8 years.

"Whenever I come here, this house reminds me of how our life used to be. That was the kitchen. We would watch TV and relax over there. I let them use my house for the film," says Shimano.

Six months after the disaster, the Shimanos moved into an apartment provided by the prefecture.

The ordeal has taken its toll on the health of Shimano’s wife, Yoshimi.

Their 11-year-old son, Hajime, was home alone when the first quake struck. It's still hard for him to stay at home without his parents.

Shimano also lost his will and had trouble going back to work.

"I felt like I needed to start over, but I couldn't. I was angry with myself," he says.

Yukisada began to get a sense of the scale of the disaster during preproduction for the film. He recalls wondering if it was really alright to shoot the film there or not.

"The film crew was stunned to see the disaster area. We thought we were aware of the situation from media reports. But the devastation was beyond imagination. We felt weak-kneed at the sight. But I decided that this was all the more reason to film there," he says.

A heartwarming story inspired him as he wrote the script. Florists in Kumamoto sent flowers to victims sheltered in temporary housing, despite their own problems.

One of them was Noriyuki Kuramoto. He ran his flower shop for 20 years until it was destroyed.

He thought long and hard about what he, a florist, could do for the community, even in his time of need.

"I saw flowers growing out of the rubble and it touched me. They were able to bloom even under such difficult conditions. It gave us hope," Kuramoto says.

When donations began to come in, it motivated him to send flowers to the displaced townspeople.

"I imagined that the atmosphere in the shelters was rather bleak. I sent flowers because I wanted to cheer the residents up, if even just a little," he says.

In a scene inspired by the story, a girl delivers flowers to temporary housing residents. Yukisada wanted to portray the people who help others despite their own suffering.

A few days after the shoot, Shimano started working in a customer’s garden.

He said the experience helped him to move on. He said he realized many people were worried about the survivors.

"I saw many people getting on with their lives. So I thought I needed to take up my own work again," he says.

Many locals attend the premiere of Yukisada's film.

Yukisada gave away 350 free tickets to them, some of whom helped make the film.

Shimano’s whole family has also come.

“It makes me happy. It’s good that the film captured my home; it was like proof that we'd lived there," he says.

"I'd like to express our gratitude to the town for helping to make this film a reality. We were worried about how the residents would respond to the production. They've just watched the beginning, and I'm relieved that I heard laughter. It fills me with a sense of purpose. I'll continue to support Kumamoto's recovery through the film," says Yukisada.

Yukisada hopes to keep the real-life story alive by screening his film nationwide.