In early March 2011, Stu Levy was in the midst of a career meltdown. His 14-year-old company, TokyoPop, an L.A.-based importer and distributor of Japanese manga and anime, was in dire straits. Borders bookstores, one of his company’s premier retailers, was in bankruptcy and owed TokyoPop close to $1 million –- and Borders wasn’t paying.
Levy was in Tokyo, making amends with his Japanese suppliers, when the giant earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis struck. Within days, he was making his way northeast, driving up the coast with a friend past increasingly tattered landscapes to volunteer for the recovery efforts.
“I didn’t even think about it,” Levy, 45, said. “I had to do something. Doing nothing was intolerable.”
Along the way, Levy was stunned by the vast amounts of mud and absurd sights amid the wreckage. The sludge “had spread across the landscape, poured into buildings and across the pavement,” he recalled.
Adjacent to one stretch of highway en route to the battered city of Sendai, the only meeting point for non-government volunteers at the time, he came upon masses of beer cans fanning out across fields. A nearby Kirin factory had been hit by the waves of the tsunami and disgorged its contents.
In chilly Sendai, he slept in cars with other volunteers. He was accepted by a local volunteer group called JEN, which stands for Japan’s Emergency NGOs. “They let me contribute,” he said, “which is all I could ask of them then.”
JEN moved its volunteers to the coastal town of Ishinomaki, some 200 miles north of Tokyo, where needs were more urgent. Ishinomaki is a city of about 160,000; 3,000 locals died in the disaster, and tens of thousands were left homeless. The disaster left the town without its primary economic engines, fishing and farming. Levy pitched in hefting boxes and shoveling mud.
“Maybe it was cathartic,” Levy said. “When you lead a company, you feel needed. When your company fails, you feel lonely. Maybe I volunteered in Ishinomaki partly to feel needed again.”
Locals learned that Levy was an amateur photographer, and one of them asked him to record their efforts on film, so that the residents’ children would understand the work their parents had done to survive. Levy, who also has experience with film and TV production (he served as an executive producer on the 2011 Sony Screen Gems film “Priest” and created a Hulu TV show, among other projects) decided then he could do something bigger: create a documentary that could raise moneyto support recovery efforts.
Over six weeks between April and August last year, he recorded footage in Japan, allowing locals — teachers, students, politicians — as well as foreign volunteers, to tell their own stories. He talked to musicians, animators and others (American and Japanese) into working on the film without pay. The result is “Pray for Japan,” which will play Wednesday night in more than a dozen cities and will have a one-week engagement in AMC theaters in New York and Los Angeles starting Friday. Proceeds will go to JEN.
The tales of the survivors are moving. There’s Kento Ito, a high school senior who lost his young brother, mother and grandparents, picking through the rubble of his family home. And Yoshiaki Shoji, a local volunteer leader, who recalls on camera his difficult decision to withhold a donation of rice balls from hungry evacuees at a shelter, because there were not enough to serve everyone. “Giving some to some people and nothing to others would be unfair” and cause problems, he said. Eventually, he said, they were able to give every evacuee at his center half a ball.
Levy brought his film to Ishinomaki last week and showed it to residents. One 52-year-old man, surnamed Ono, said he was surprised by the results. “I thought that a film about volunteering would be boring,” he said, “because volunteering is basically boring. But this is full of many different people, and tells their stories. It’s inspiring, and sometimes, it even feels fun.”
“I believe we can help heal these wounds by paying tribute to the amazing resilience and quiet spirit of the many victims and volunteers of Tohoku. By letting them know we admire and respect them, we encourage them to continue the good fight – at a time when even the strongest warriors would grow weary.”
We also gain insight into how our own inner strength can help us if we ever find ourselves in a life-threatening situation. I believe we can all learn from these incredible heroes.
I will always remember the first time I found out about the earthquake and Tsunami. It felt like my whole world was going to crash down around me, but instead of letting the grief affect me I felt like it was my responsibility to help the very people who had inspired me to be a better person. All I wanted to do was to Give and not take, and what Stu did, what the volunteers, the families, all the people who cared, what they did really helped show the world that no matter what, all of us can stand up when times are tough and be selfless. Am I saying that all people are like this? No, there will always be people who put themselves before others, but its up to us to show the next generation what it means to be selfless. What it means to love and to be dedicated to a goal or dream.
When I went to the premiere I expected to walk away with knowledge of what I already knew, but it was so much more than that. I walked away with the respect and love for Stu, the volunteers, and all those affected by the Tsunami and earthquake. As a podcaster I never thought that I could make a difference, but knowing that I brighten up your day with a laugh is worth every moment. I try and give and not take, yeah I would love to work in the industry one day of anime, manga, and things involving Japan but I will be realistic and know my limits, but I’ll be dammed if I give up on the things I love. I want all you to walk away with the knowledge that you do have the power and the choice to make your life better. Helping others is the greatest thing you can do for yourself, because not only does it make them feel happy it makes you feel happy that you put others before yourself and in your own little way you made a difference. I wish I could have gone over and helped with the relief efforts of Japan but I knew school and finding a job were my top priority, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t give up on helping Japan. Instead I turned around and helped start a fundraiser, Ganbare for Japan.
Now I know that Ganbare explains itself on their about page, but what all of us, all of the podcasters, wanted to do was to show our love and dedication to Japan the only way we could. I know the event is a bit late, but all the money and just the event itself will hopefully raise the spirits of those in Japan who have lost someone or who have lost their homes. The event isn’t about who’s hosting it, its about who its for and what it stands for. Ganbare means to “Do your Best” so when we say Ganbare Japan it means “Do your best Japan”, but our true meaning is Ganbare for Japan “Do your best for Japan”. With this in mind what we’re trying to tell everyone is to do their best, to be compassionate and selfless, and just show their support and their love for Japan.
PHOTO’s FROM PREMIER!
This was the movie poster right outside the theater! Wanted to take a better pic but all i had with me was my phone XD
And here is my sister holding up the awesome free poster I got.
Oh and I hardly doubted that she wanted her face to be
published on the internet so instead of blurring her face out
I decided to put a troll face for shits and giggles. lol
Troll lol lol lol lol
And there is Stu Levy & Toshio Hirano of JEN
To top it all off I got them to sign my poster!!! HOW COOL IS THAT!!!!!!!!! 😀
PEACE OUT!!! BLESS YUR FACE!!! 😀