Spiderpig! or, The Toxic Pigs of Fukushima
Written by Shanti Escalante-De Mattei
The boars, bovines, and remaining humans that make their lives in the exclusion zone of Fukushima are the subjects of Otto Bell’s new documentary, The Toxic Pigs of Fukushima, which premiered on Vice a couple weeks ago. Based on the film’s reception, it seems to be a contender for an Oscar nom. For the most part, Bell focuses on Goru Kusano, a hunter in charge of culling the radiated boars who live in the exclusion zone. That’s right– radiation pigs, a typical 2020-21 cryptid.
Radiation pigs make me think of the spiderpig song from the Simpsons and murder wasps. Radiation pigs make me think of the wolves who live at the Chernobyl site, at once protected from human harm and forever changed by it. More than anything though, these pigs reminded me of the “nature is healing” adage from early pandemic times, as we saw animals clip-clop on abandoned streets and swim in industrial waterways.
I really wanted to believe the many takes I read following the #natureishealing shebang–that it isn’t humans who are the problem, it’s capitalism. I was hoping that Toxic Pigs might complicate these easy dichotomies – humans are bad, nature is good, humans are good, capitalism is bad – that feels too simplistic to represent reality. In the end, the story of radiated pigs and the people who live, hunt, and process them was as surreal and thought provoking as I thought it’d be. Unfortunately, though, Toxic Pigs doesn’t always focus on toxic pigs! A fatal flaw in any film.
Bell falls into the hubris trap of trying to represent post-Fukushima life writ-large and ends up going on generalizing tangents. He covers thyroid cancer, a woman who populates her abandoned town with dolls (a story that is too big for the confines of this short doc), a man whose daughter’s remains are missing–because of the natural disasters, the plant meltdown, the boars...? His artistic silences rarely speak for themselves. Bell has made his career making branded content in documentary form and very traditional “this is _____ exotic country” type work, so I guess this shouldn’t surprise me. Hopefully, the radiated pigs of Fukushima find more a more attentive production to champion them in the future.