“Nowhere to go but everywhere” was selected as a finalist in this year’s ShortList Film Festival, presented by TheWrap. You can watch the movies and vote for your favorite here.
Yasuo Takamatsu, a devoted husband who tragically lost his wife in the 2011 Japanese tsunami, is the emotional center of the excellent and moving documentary short “Nowhere to Go But Everywhere,” which is a finalist in TheWrap’s ShortList Film Festival 2023.
The catastrophic tsunami, which left nearly 20,000 dead and nearly half a million homeless, was triggered by an underwater earthquake that struck off the east coast of Japan on March 11, 2011. Months after the tragedy, Takamatsu was able to recover the his wife’s phone in the parking lot of the bank where he worked.
Takamatsu found the pink flip phone with an unsent text message he didn’t receive: “So much tsunami,” it read. Unfortunately, Takamatsu hasn’t found anything else since then.
In 2013, Takamatsu began diving as a last resort to locate his wife’s body after she went missing in Onagawa, one of the areas hardest hit by the disaster.
As directors Masako Tsumura and Erik Shirai explain, “he processed his pain by learning to dive and looking for it in the same ocean that took her away from him. Beneath the endless layers of the ocean, he still explores to find his wife, but has unexpectedly found solace.
In 2018, the filmmakers were busy developing their feature film “Umi” and then read the New York Times magazine story on Takamatsu.
“We were so moved by his incredible story that we decided to base our fictional film on his experience,” Tsumura told TheWrap. “We were forced to meet him and were able to secure a meeting through the dive shop where he trained.”
Tsumura added, “He arrived before us and we were surprised to be greeted by his kind and humble demeanor.”
The filmmakers felt it would be inappropriate to ask Takamatsu questions about his wife, so they broke the ice by asking him about his diving and what he saw in the ocean. At first, Takamatsu’s answers were often followed by awkward silence.
“But as we developed a deeper relationship with him, he slowly began to fill the silence with life before the tsunami, the memories he had left, and his life project to fulfill his wife’s dying wish,” Tsumura said.
When the COVID pandemic hit, the filmmakers found that Takamatsu was still diving and looking for his wife while the rest of the world was in lockdown. The filmmakers saw an opportunity to document Takamatsu’s search for his wife. “It opened up a space for us to look beyond our own existence in difficult times,” Tsumura said.
Coming up with a filming schedule during COVID became a challenge for the filmmakers because foreigners from outside the region were not welcome in that part of Japan.
But the COVID protocol wasn’t the only challenge the filmmakers faced, as the underwater production was also very difficult. The filmmakers also had to postpone shooting a couple of times due to the harsh weather conditions at the time.
“The underwater world in the region is difficult due to strong currents, low temperatures and low visibility, but we work with the best underwater cinematographers in Japan,” said Tsumura.
According to Tsumura, Takamatsu still dives every week to this day. “He has found household items, someone’s belongings, fishing gear and sunken cars,” Tsumura said.
The 2023 ShortList Film Festival takes place online from June 28 to July 12, honoring the best award-winning short films that premiered at major festivals in the past year. See the finalists and vote for your favorite here.