Welcome to a special San Francisco edition of the Sunday Salon! I’m here for a few days of vacation – I almost mentioned rest and relaxation, but that isn’t really why I’m here. Both the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival and the American Mavericks concert series by the San Francisco Symphony are well under way and helping to fill my day. Books are taking a back seat for a few days as great music and films take over.
I’ll be writing separately about the music I’ve been hearing, which has been amazing, ranging from the surreal craziness of John Cage’s Song Books (where else are you going to see and hear Jessye Norman typing and playing cards, Meredith Monk’s fancy dance moves, Joan La Barbara growling like a dog, and Michael Tilson Thomas pasting Post-It Notes to his jacket and preparing a hearty vegetable drink with a blender? Fantastic!) to the thorny grandeur of Carl Ruggles’s massive Sun-treader. And hearing A Concord Symphony, Henry Brant’s orchestration of the “Concord” Sonata by Charles Ives, has got me writing another blog entry, probably a few days or a week away, on the history and unique sound world of that very important work.
As today is the anniversary of last year’s devastating Japanese earthquake and tsunami, I’d like to write about one of the Festival films I saw yesterday. The Academy Award nominee The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, directed by Lucy Walker, seemed to have been an emotional experience for everyone, partly because of the confluence of the timing – the Film Festival, the anniversary, and the fact that this all happened just as cherry blossom season arrived (I just happened to get home from a concert last night in time to see a memorial service live from Japan on CNN).
Starting with footage of the tsunami itself – even more impressive and awful than the footage we’ve seen repeatedly on television – the film moves to testimony of several people who witnessed and experienced its destruction. The horror of what they lived through can barely be imagined, and their descriptions are pretty overwhelming. Juxtaposed with this, though, are reflections on the cherry blossom – a symbol of beauty as well as hope, perseverance, and impermanence – and the history of its celebration each March and April in Japan. As we see in the film, last year’s celebration was officially suspended, although many people still made the pilgrimage, in part to memorialize those who had lost their lives. That the film can set these horrible and beautiful images side-by-side without being either mawkish or facile is quite an achievement. The film, needless to say, was very moving, by turns horrifying and beautiful, tragic and reassuring.
To close today’s Salon … also making an appearance in the film is what is apparently the world’s oldest cherry blossom tree, the Miharu Taki-Zakura, or Waterfall Cherry Tree of Miharu, in Fukushima, home of the now-famous damaged nuclear reactors and one of the regions hardest hit by the earthquake and tsunami. Over 1,000 years old, the tree requires some support now, but is still producing its beautiful blossoms and attracting visitors, even after the events of last year.