A documentary by Matsubayashi Yoju

The Horses of Fukushima

DMZ Korean International Documentary Film Festival / Global Vision (Oct 2013)
International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam / Reflecting Images: Panorama / (Nov 2013)
Tokyo Filmex / In Competition (Nov 2013)
Tripoli Resistance Film Festival / In Competition (Nov 2013)
Dubai International Film Festival / Muhr Asia Africa Documentary Competition (Dec 2013)

What a fate for Mirror”Ēs Quest and his fellow horses of Fukushima! After the tsunami, nuclear meltdown, and government inaction, the absurdity of human civilization is reflected in their eyes.

'No one would have imagined the absurd fate awaiting Mirror’s Quest and his fellow horses of Fukushima. Almost dying in the tsunami; exposed to radiation inside the 20-km zone of the nuclear meltdown; left for weeks without fodder; shut away in stables for months because of governmental red tape. The horses are kept alive because of the role they must play in the grand annual horse festival with a 1,000-year history, but they’ve become a headache for the authorities. A horse meat industry flourishes nearby – horse meat is a gourmet delicacy in Japan. Ironically, thanks to the nuclear disaster, our protagonists will now be allowed to live long lives without danger of being slaughtered.

English trailer


In Minami-soma, 20 km from the Fukushima No. 1 reactor, horses have historically been an important part of local life. Even until the 1970s, people kept horses to farm the fields. Soma Nomaoi is the 10-century-old traditional festival which celebrates the horses’ contribution to human society, as partners in warfare and farming.

Third-generation rancher Mr. Tanaka had 40 horses within the 20-km radius of the nuclear plant. In March 2011, he was forced to evacuate immediately after the nuclear accident, and had to abandon the horses. Only some weeks later could he re-enter the restricted zone, to find many horses starved to death and others suffering from trauma and disease. Over months, the filmmaker films the horses in proximity while he helps take care of Mr. Tanaka’s remaining horses on his farm in the restricted zone. The film focuses on the animals and their fate to tell the story of Japanese society and what it lost by buying into nuclear power.

Among the many Fukushima films emerging from the disaster, this project alone does not “explain.” The horses cannot speak, and the filmmaker does not anthropomorphize them. The audience is gradually drawn into their world of discovering how simple and beautiful it is to eat, to run, to live. The name of the horse festival Soma Nomaoi literally means “chasing wild horses.” Chasing and harnessing the wild – perhaps that is what humans have done throughout the history of civilization.

This is Matsubayashi’s second film in Fukushima, following Fukushima: Memories of the Lost Landscape, acclaimed in international film festivals and successful in Japanese cinemas. The third in the trilogy may possibly be about immigrants from Minami-soma, Fukushima, living in Brazil. It’s now in research stage.

Director”Ēs Statement

In April 2011, I first encountered the horses abandoned in the vicinity after the Fukushima nuclear accident. When I saw Miracle Quest’s swollen penis, I could only feel empathy as a fellow male beast. It was painful even to think it could happen to me. Its shape and form was just like the mushroom cloud we had seen rising from the Fukushima No. 1 reactor. Radioactivity affects genetic properties. The bloated male genital organ looked as if it had shouldered all human karma for creating nuclear energy.

Horses disappeared from Japanese everyday life in the 1960s. By the time I was born, tractors had already taken the place of the farm horse, trucks and cars the place of the horse carriage. I myself had no experience taking care of horses and only knew about them through the media. I could neither ride horses nor handle them. I spent the summer of 2011 cleaning their stables. We didn’t speak the same language, but I discovered how horses express their emotions using their full bodies. I knew I couldn’t suddenly become a brilliant animal photographer, but at least the horses could get to know me as someone with a camera. And while I filmed the horses who gradually acknowledged me, I thought their huge eyes could reflect what they themselves think of the creature called human.

This film deals with the horses’ recovery, but it is not a clean parable. It touches upon the horse meat industry, but it is not an exposé. People are just making a living. Yet the horses’ fate does lie in the hands of humans. Taking their plight as a metaphor, I try to present the hypocrisy in this country. As someone living in a society whose prosperity relied on nuclear energy, I can voice, only through these horses, an admonition to the arrogance of human greed.

Director”Ēs profile

Photo by KAMEYAMA Ryo

MATSUBAYASHI Yoju (director, camera, editor) ¾¾ĪÓĶ×¼ł

Born 1979 in Fukuoka, Japan. After a period of traveling solo across Asia, he enrolled in the Japan Academy of Moving Images. In 2004, he completed his graduation film Dear Respectful Humans (Haikei ningen sama), a documentary about a homeless man, and started his career as assistant director at a TV production company. In November 2006, he started a documentary project on the former Japanese soldiers in Thai-Burmese border area. It was completed in 2009 as the film Flowers and Troops (Hana to heitai) and released theatrically in Tokyo and across Japan. The film was acclaimed and received the “Yamaji Fumiko Film Prize” and “Tahara Soichiro Non-fiction Prize”. His first feature documentary after the 311 tsunami and nuclear disaster Fukushima – Memories of the Lost Landscape (Soma Kanka, 2011) was invited to Yamagata, Hong Kong, Edinburgh, and other film festivals. It won the anthropology and sustainable development prize at Festival Jean Rouch. It was theatrically released in May 2012 across Japan.


Original title: Matsuri no uma””
2013 / Japan / 74 min / HD, DCP / completed 2013

Filmed, edited, and directed by: Matsubayashi Yoju
Producers: Hashimoto Yoshiko, Kinoshita Shigeki
Additional camera: Yamauchi Daido, Kato Takanobu
Editing advisor: Osawa Kazuo
Sound design: Kuwaki Tomoji
Graphics: Naruse Kei
International affairs: Fujioka Asako
Distributed by: Tofoo Films
Produced by: Documentary Japan, Tofoo Films, 3JoMa Film

*All names in this document are family name first, given name second, in the Japanese tradition


International contact: Fujioka Asako / fukushimahorse@gmail.com

3JoMa Film c/o Tofoo Films
5-4-1-306 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160-0022 Japan
Phone +81-3-5919-1542 / Fax +81-3-5919-1543 / Email info@tongpoo-films.jp