‘Our Friend the Atom’, a Nuclear Oxymoron

In this text, Michaël Ferrier transposes three films he made with Kenichi Watanabe that examine life in Fukushima.


WordsClémence Leleu

© Gallimard

The story begins with some advice: place plastic bottles of water on windowsills and sleep on the ground floor rather than the first floor and, if possible, in a bed located right in the centre of the room. Such tips might seem surprising, but not for the residents of the Fukushima region, and particularly those who live on the outskirts of the area exposed to radiation, like this little boy with a dosimeter around his neck who has come for a consultation with a specialist with his mother to look at lowering his radiation level. 

Thus begins Notre ami l’atome (‘Our Friend the Atom’): with everyday life turned upside down, made up of new reflexes, new encounters. All these are with a view to working around, combatting and fending off this enemy that, while invisible, has reshaped the life and environment of the Japanese in a very visible manner. 


Retelling what came after

Thus Michaël Ferrier, who has been living in Tokyo since 1994, investigates, examines, retells, rewinds history until the end of the Second World War, and ultimately establishes the radiation-related links that unite the great economic powers and highlights their industrial, military and commercial interests. 

Notre ami l’atome is a transposition of three screenplays written by the author and directed by Kenichi Watanabe: Le monde après Fukushima (‘The World After Fukushima’) (2013), Terres nucléaires, une histoire du plutonium (‘Nuclear Lands, a History of Plutonium’) (2015) and Notre ami l’atome (2020). It makes a point of taking a multidisciplinary approach, as this chronicler of the atomic era did in his book The Eye of the Storm: Art in the Time of Fukushima, supplemented with a perspective that combines scientific thought and human testimonies. It is a means of educating the eye to detect what lies behind this enemy that is, ultimately, not so invisible. 


Notre ami l’atome (‘Our Friend the Atom’) (2021), a book by Michaël Ferrier published by Gallimard (not currently available in English).