World Premiere of The Earth Asleep to mark 10th anniversary of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami

A new artist film by visual artist Clara Casian about one of the most powerful earthquake and tsunami ever recorded, with music by composer Robin Richards, will be released on March 11 to mark the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan disaster.

The Earth Asleep is an artist film commissioned by HOME, and will be released on BFI Player. The haunting travelogue addresses the ways in which our exposure to extreme live-trauma in the form of rolling news and citizen reportage has resulted in an inability to process grief at a manageable, human scale.

The Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011 killed over 15,000 people and caused a nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant – the worst such incident since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

In the film, Casian and Richards travelled to the village of Otsuchi in remote North-East Japan to document and observe the experiences of local residents, from an elderly man who lost his home but whose identity with place is deeply rooted, to the grandmother who raced to the local primary school as the waves surged towards shore, or the pilgrims who journey to a remote phone booth to speak to the silent spirits of those who have passed on.

The film will be available at from March 11, as part of Rentals, BFI Player’s transactional VOD service.

As well as the BFI Player release, the film will be screened at HOME with a live musical accompaniment later in the year.

The duo have previously collaborated on Birdsong – Stories from Pripyat, for which they visited Ukraine and the Chernobyl exclusion zone to create a unique exploration of impacted memory upon place.

The soundtrack to the film will also be released as an album later in the year, from which one track, Haga, is available now.

Haga was inspired by a meeting with Otsuchi resident Masahiko Haga, who runs the Kirikirikoku community group, working with young people and orphans in the town. He showed Casian and Richards his meditative process of dealing with his grief through his connection to fire.

Composer Robin Richards said: “We interviewed several people in the town who told us about their different spiritual methods of dealing with grief and loss following the disaster, and their stories form the narrative threads of the film. Masahiko Haga explained to us that the spirits return to heaven when the fire goes out.

“The evening spent with Haga was an extremely powerful and moving experience, and Clara and I knew instantly that it would be an integral part of the film and score. The xylophone melody heard in Haga is taken from the Otsuchi neighbourhood music – a melody played over the loudspeakers used for earthquake and tsunami warning, heard every few hours across the whole town.”

Director Clara Casian said: “To go far with the tripod and the camera, with the plans of meticulous interviews, with the burning heart lit by the desire to discover distant realms, people and forgotten histories, it may seem a fearful or unusual thing. Mystical signs, symbols and incomprehensible rituals strike the memory of those who are no longer. The years pass and the events enter into a shadow account, and only those who have suffered bear the memory of their dear ones.

“From their tears, to the light of the ritual fire, to the strange murmur of temple prayers, from the strange picture of the telephone booth in Itaru’s garden, from the blinking of footsteps in the mud and the contorted forms of the water-swept vegetation, we recalled a time unprecedented, so that we never forget that the earth has delicate systems that must be taken care of, in order to prevent fatal climate change.”

The Earth Asleep is a HOME Artist Film co-commission supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation.