Voice actress from Ghibli’s My Neighbour Totoro plays a schoolboy dealing with disaster in Japan.

Today marks ten years since the Great East Japan Earthquake devastated a number of towns in the Tohoku region, one of them being Shichigahama in Miyagi Prefecture.

▼ Shichigahama

On 11 March 2011, this seaside town was struck by a 10-metre (32.8-foot) high tsunami which reached over two kilometres (1.2 miles) inland, spreading debris, flooding 95-percent of rice fields and washing away the majority of homes and buildings in Shobutahama, Hanabuchihama, and other coastal neighbourhoods.

The town reported 6,143 injuries and 111 deaths, a number lower than other areas as most residents were able to flee to higher ground. Over 4,000 people were evacuated to nearby shelters, and three months later residents who had lost their homes were moved into temporary housing, which stayed in place for three years as the town was rebuilt.

Now, ten years on from the disaster, the town is bringing its story to a wider audience, some of whom may not have even been alive when the events of that day occurred. Enlisting professionals from the anime industry, Shichigahama has created a 20-minute anime called “Shichigahama de Mitsuketa” (“Found in Shichigahama“), which centres around a group of young friends dealing with the disaster as it happened, and uses real testimony from the town’s survivors for the storyline.

▼ The anime contains earthquake and tsunami scenes that may be disturbing to some viewers.

At the beginning of the anime, we’re introduced to Yayoi, a sixth grade-elementary student who just moved from Tokyo to Shichigahama. Having recently arrived in the town, Yayoi doesn’t know to take tsunami alerts seriously, so when the alert is broadcast over the speakers and everyone rushes to higher ground, a boy named Kaito runs over to her, taking her hand and leading her to the evacuation spot.

They’re met there by Kaito’s friends, Michiru, Nagi and Minato, where Yayoi explains that she didn’t think the 50-centimetre (19.7-inch) tsunami alert required an urgent response. After telling her that all tsunami warnings should always be taken seriously, they decide to help her get acquainted with the town by taking her on a tour, which leads to an encounter with a foreign tourist and a trip to Kaito’s family-run nori-making business.

Fast-forward to 11 March 2011, when Kaito, Nagi and Yayoi sit by the sea after attending their junior high school graduation ceremony. That’s when the earthquake hits, forcing Kaito off his feet as the massive jolt continues for roughly 40 seconds. Kaito says they need to get away from the sea, so as soon as the strong shaking subsides, the trio race up to the evacuation point alongside other residents, while the ground continues to shake with strong aftershocks.

The warning issued over the loudspeakers informs everyone that the predicted height of the tsunami is ten metres, and so the friends make the decision to head to even higher ground. In real-life, many residents did move past evacuation points and up to higher ground, a move that ultimately saved many lives in the town.

After the tsunami, the friends spend their time at an evacuation shelter, relying on emergency supplies provided to them and wondering what will happen to their homes. Three months later, we see Yayoi and her parents set up in temporary housing, with Yayoi no longer able to see her friends as they’ve all been split up into different areas.

Yayoi’s father then informs them that Town Hall officials now say people won’t be able to rebuild their homes in their original locations, so he takes them all back to live in Tokyo. By the end of the anime, ten years have passed and Yayoi finally returns to Shichigahama, where she meets up with her buddies and sees a brand new town that’s very different to the one she left a decade earlier.

Despite living away from the area for so many years, Yayoi happily notices that some things haven’t changed, like the townsfolk, and remarks that these things are irreplaceable, suggesting that this is what was “found in Shichigahama”.

It’s a bittersweet account of one resident’s relationship with the area, and one that many will no doubt be able to relate to. Shichigahama made sure to pay attention to a lot of details in the anime too, not only with firsthand testimonials, but with real-life locations featured in the anime.

▼ The seaside scenes are based on a real-life location in the southern part of Shobutahama

▼ The friends also make an appearance at the Shichigahama Kokusaimura cultural centre

Playing the roles of main characters Yayoi, Nagi, Michiru and Minato are voice actors Ayaka Nanase, Shiori Tamada, Minami Kurisaka, and Mark Ishii respectively. Giving voice to Kaito is 58-year-old Noriko Hidaka, who has a long list of acting credits to her name, including the role of Minami Asakura in Touch and the role of Satsuki in Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbour Totoro.

Shichigahama’s town mayor, Kaoru Terasawa, voiced the role of the school principal in the anime, which was produced by Jichidai Anime, and staff from the town hall stepped in as extras. As a touching nod to the people of the town, “Shichigahama” has been given writing credits.

It’s a fitting way to acknowledge the history of the town while paying homage to the strength of its residents. As we remember the events of 3.11 today, Shichigahama will be in our thoughts, and we hope to visit them soon to show our support as they work towards a much brighter future.

Source: YouTube/七ヶ浜でみつけた, Shichigahama Town, Miyagi Prefecture via Otakomu
Images: YouTube/七ヶ浜でみつけた
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