Umi -The Sea-

: Narrative Feature
GENRE: Drama
STATUS: Pre-Production


After a tsunami devastate Northern Japan, a spared fisherman learns how to dive to search for the remains of his missing wife but a freak diving accident forces him to reconcile the frail relationship with his daughter.


Umi is a small seaside fishing town in Northern Japan that is attempting to rebuild after a devastating tsunami destroyed its community and washed away its inhabitants. A local abalone fisherman, Kazuo, and his teenage daughter, Naomi, have been spared but they are left to reckon with their fragile relationship that was always held together by Mariko, the mother and wife, who was taken by the sea.


I deeply admire the Tohoku (northern Japan) people who choose to live by the wild sea. The ocean is an integral part of their life and livelihood, yet it is governed by no set of rules. It gives and takes, as it pleases. When one of the biggest tsunami in modern history arrived at the shores of northern Japan in 2011 it re-claimed parts of the town and its peoples back into the dark sea. I wondered how fisherman who depended on the sea could go back out into the water, day after day, after it had swept away their loved ones and the only land they have known. How could they not feel betrayed? How was their pride for the sea not replaced with anger and fear? It broke my heart when I heard the true story of two men, whose wife and daughter were swept away while waiting to be rescued standing atop the roof of the bank where they worked. When the two men chose to learn diving to uncover any traces of their loved ones, I was amazed that they chose to heal themselves by diving directly into the mouth of the same sea that stole their loved ones from them. Even if the chance of finding something, anything was slim to none, searching became their way to stay close to the ones they lost. Their deep sea diving journey led me to wonder what it meant to be a survivor, to be the one left standing on the land— the one who was spared. How did these survivors cope with the pain of losing someone who, in one fell swoop, disappeared from this earth. With nothing to bury or say farewell to, I wondered if the survivors could ever find closure, and if so, what did that process look and feel like? I want to understand what it feels like to be at once buoyed and then swallowed by this body of water. How does this floating and sinking sensation change the view of the horizon? Life is never without movement, but when you are constantly searching for something, someone, is that movement pulling you back with the tide or pushing you forward to try to build something new? Maybe, in the water, we find something other than what we are looking for; instead we get a lesson in letting the tide take us where we need to be.


Erik Shirai - Writer/Director

Erik Shirai is a visual artist based in New York City, working in the medium of film, painting and photography. He has worked around the world on renowned documentaries, TV shows and commercials. He recently won 'Special Jury Mention for Best Documentary Director' at 2015 Tribeca Film Festival for his feature film 'The Birth of Saké', which took an intimate look at the 2000 year old endangered art of handcrafting sake in northern Japan. The film also won Best Documentary Film at the 2016 Palm Springs International Film Festival and was also an Official Selection at the prestigious San Sebastian Film Festival. The film is available on both Netflix and iTunes. Umi will be his first narrative feature.

Masako Tsumura - Producer

Born in Japan, Masako Tsumura worked as a local producer for major Japanese TV networks including Fuji TV, TV Tokyo, and NHK. She edited an award winning documentary "Arakimentari" in 2004. In 2008, she directed and produced “Fire Under the Snow,” a feature documentary about the Venerable Palden Gyatso who was a political prisoner for 33 years. The film was premiered at Tribeca, screened at dozens of film festivals worldwide, and the film was distributed theatrically in Japan in 2010. Most recently, she produced “The Birth of Saké,” which won Best Documentary Film at the 2016 Palm Springs International Film Festival. The film was also an official Selection at the prestigious San Sebastian Film Festival, and aired on PBS POV in 2016. In 2017, the film received the James Beard Foundation Broadcast Media Award. Masako received an Media Studies from The New School University.


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