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Fukushima 50
  • Composed by Taro Iwashiro
  • Universal / 48m

Fukushima 50 is a dramatisation about the workers who stayed behind to prevent the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima plant in Japan becoming an even greater nuclear disaster. It was released in early March 2020 in Japan and would no doubt have become very successful had it not been for the pandemic.

Those in the know have been singing the praises of composer Taro Iwashiro for a long time but his only wider exposure internationally came when he scored John Woo’s Red Cliff over a decade ago. I suspect that Fukushima 50 will give him his greatest acclaim yet – it’s an impressive score which focuses entirely on heroism and goodness, musically and dramatically as far removed from the recent (also acclaimed) Chernobyl as it is possible to get, showing how differently similar things can be tackled by different composers.

Taro Iwashiro

The album opens with what is labelled as a “symphonic suite” consisting of four distinct pieces. I’m not sure if they’re just film cues repurposed or not but in any case it’s very stirring stuff. The opening piece, “All Life”, presents the impassioned main theme – I guess for the sake of comparison, think Fernando Velazquez and The Impossible. The strings of the Tokyo Philharmonic are joined by a full choir and violin and cello soloists and it’s a wonderful theme.

In “A Gift” the choir sings “hallelujah” (this is not a subtle score!) and there are some lovely wind solos; then in “Operation Tomodachi” the main theme is heard again, for piano this time. The score’s brilliant secondary theme – with a great violin solo – is then presented in “Home Country Forever More”. It’s very rousing – Georges Delerue levels of emotional drama.

The rest of the album (with what I am assuming is the actual film score) mostly draws from the material in that opening suite. It is less intensely emotional perhaps, at times less lyrical, but you still hear those same themes repeated quite often. I do wonder how it can possibly avoid overwhelming the film, but on album it works beautifully.

This is big music – emotional, dramatic – ultimately, quite old-fashioned (you would absolutely never hear anything like this in a Hollywood film and probably wouldn’t have done for a quarter of a century) – and it really is very beautiful. It’s a little repetitive perhaps over its whole length but even if you just listen to that opening suite, it still more than warrants buying the album.

Rating: **** | |

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