Beautiful Islands A Documentary


This was the official website for the 2009 documentary film, Beautiful Islands.
Content is from the site's 2010 archived pages as well as other sources.


Beautiful Islands (Documentary) trailer


Beautiful Islands –The Three Sinking Livings

This movie looks at three beautiful islands, shaken by climate change: Tuvalu in the South Pacific, Venice in Italy, and Shishmaref in Alaska.

The islands all have different climates and cultures, but the people all love their native lands. The film, which took three years to shoot, focuses on their daily lives. It portrays festivals that foster ties among the people, traditional crafts which have been passed on for generations, and peaceful lives by the water. They are all disappearing by climate change.

When these people lose their homelands, their cultures and histories face “death.” Their lives in the midst of all the changes suggest where our future leads..

Director, Kana Tomoko purposely decided not to put any narration or music in this film. It is a two-hour trip around the world, listening to the sounds of waters and winds, accompanied by the children’s smiles. She wants you to sharpen your minds and feel what we are going to lose as climate change really (threatens) hits our planet.




KANA Tomoko was born in Tokyo in 1971. She became interested in the documentary when she was a university student and appeared on the television documentary program directed by KORE-EDA Hirozaku ( "Nobody Knows" and "Air Doll").

After graduating university, she started her career as a news producer at Japan's public broadcaster, NHK, and went independent in 2000. In 2004, she directed a documentary "From the Land of Bitter Tears"(2004) and won the Japan Journalist Congress award and International Festival of Audiovisual Programs (FRANCE). In 2007, she won the Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers Award at the Sundance Film Festival with her first screenplay of a narrative film, "Two by the River", an award given to outstanding writers. The script was selected for European Audio Visual Entrepreneurs’ Ties That Bind – Asia Europe Producers Co-production Workshop 2012 and participated Busan International Film Festival Asian Project Market.

In 2009, she completed "Beautiful Islands ~Memoirs of Sinking Islands~", a feature documentary about three beautiful islands effected by Climate Change- Tuvalu in South Pacific, Venice in Italy and Shishmaref in Alaska. After a world premiere at Busan International Film Festival 2009, winning Asian Cinema Fund AND award, the film opened in theaters in US and Japan in summer 2010.

An oscar-nminated “The Twilight Samurai” (Tasogare Seibei) director YAMADA Yoji served as executive producer for her latest work, “IWASAKI CHIHIRO” (2012), a feature documentary on the unbeknown love and passionate life of Japan’s most reputed pot-war female artist. The film opened nation wide in Japan in summer 2012.


Tuvalu and Climate Change

Tuvalu consists of 9 coral islands with slightly over 10,000 inhabitants. They became independent from Britain through a local referendum in 1978. Since then, the people have been proud of their autonomy and freedom in spite of their small size. They are a Polynesian culture and the islands are filled with tropical ambience.

However, it is believed that the first country to disappear from the rise in sea level will be Tuvalu. Every year from February to March the islanders suffer from floods. The people are highly conscious of their environment from years of informative environmental education. For the Tuvaluan people who live self-sufficiently, surrounded by the beautiful blue sea, it is hard to imagine smoke billowing out from factories and black fumes from exhaust pipes. Tuvalu prides itself on excellent education on the environment as their children are taught from a very young age the benefits of nature. But how can they accept the fact that environmentally destructive activities taking place somewhere far away are in fact destroying the nature around them?

Each year some of the island’s inhabitants are selected by lottery to emigrate to New Zealand, a few thousand kilometers away. And, the country sends an ambassador to address the issue in the international community such as the United Nations.

Tuvalu has experienced severe damage from cyclones in 1972, 1990 and 1997. When a cyclone approaches the islands, it brings with it high waves that result in erosion of the coastline and the land, which extends only three feet above sea level. The islands become covered with water. The salt water damages cassavas and taros, which are the Tuvaluans’ important crops. Ground water is also damaged, leaving them with only rainwater as their only source of clean water.




"An extraordinarily eloquent synthesis of imagery and urgency... [Filmmaker Tomoko] Kana makes her case most strongly by capturing images of her vanishing Edens."
-John Anderson, Variety

"Breathtaking, captivating and inspirational... vital wake-up call for all of mankind"
-Avi Offer, NYC Movie Guru

"Daunting documentary chronicling the planet as a consequence of climate change"
-Kay Williams, News Blaze

"A very graphic representation of the impact of high tides on islands and the coast"
-Rick Barrett, Evironmental News Network



Tuvalu and Climate Change




Rating: PG (adult situations/language, nudity, violence)
Genre: Documentary, Special Interest
Directed By: Kana Tomoko
In Theaters: Jul 2, 2010  Wide
Runtime:  110 minutes.


Shot over the course of three years, director Tomoko Kana's Beautiful Islands introduces viewers to everyday people from three islands that are slowly sinking into the oceans, and speaks with the subjects at length about how that change will affect the lives of future generations. Tuvalu; Venice, Italy; and Shismaref, Alaska -- three islands with little in common save for the fact that, thanks to rising sea levels, they'll all likely be under water in 100 years. When that finally happens, entire cultures will effectively drown as any evidence of their existence is swallowed up by the rising tides. In this film, we get an intimate glimpse at each of the cultures, sharing time with the people and listening to their stories so that once the inevitable occurs, the memory of these remarkable places will live on forever.




Beautiful Islands

1.5 out of 5 BY DIEGO SEMERENE Slant Magazine
JUNE 29, 2010
One of Beautiful Islands‘s first shots is an aerial take of a strangely skinny stretch of land that seems to never end. This dental floss of an island is peopled with children who spend their time doing homework on canoes, swimming in the rain, eating freshly grated coconut, and playing with sea turtles. Too bad this South Pacific idyll, called Tuvalu, could soon go the way of Atlantis, for it is the first country on the planet to be sinking due to climate change (cue in the PowerPoint slide).

There is enough foreboding drama in this premise and its bucolic setting for the camera to sit there and let Tuvalu be Tuvalu. But Japanese documentarian Tomoko Kana is no Pedro Costa. Instead of allowing the uncanny simplicity of this place be her muse and brew through extensive contemplation (I could have watched Tuvalu just be for longer than Jeanne Dielman just cooks), Kana jumps to a different space altogether before you are able to say “buzzkill.”

We’re presented with—or assaulted by—all the hackneyed romanticism of Venice, Italy, with its gondolas, gondoliers, and gondoliers’ sons who dream of being gondoliers some day. Yes, climate change will ruin this paradise too, we infer. Too bad Las Vegas isn’t close to any body of water.

After lingering on the City of Canals and the mask-wearing folk dancing in rubber boots trying to avoid the flood, the film shifts its attention to Shishmaref, in Alaska. Its first image recalls the opening of Ulrich Seidl’s Import/Export: a vast field of frozen ground with a little motorcycle crossing the horizon. But Beautiful Islands is too intent on putting explanatory, cringe-inducing intertitles on screen and reminding us of its green agenda to actually gaze at the beauty of its subject matter.

Documentaries on climate change can be as palatable as Deleuze for the uninitiated. Even though it admirably tries a barebones approach (no graphics, no music), this one keeps speaking for its spaces when the spaces can speak for themselves. Beautiful Islands teases us with delightful Weerasethakul-esque territory only to abruptly replace that promise of wonder with predictable, sterile documentary filmmaking. Like a lecturer who starts a presentation with such a great, spontaneous anecdote but then sticks to her stodgy bullet-point presentation.



June 29, 2010 | Rating: 3/4
Kam Williams NewsBlaze

A heartbreaking expose' which leaves no doubt that dramatic environmental changes are unfolding at every latitude, whether they be the consequences of human overconsumption of fossil fuels or merely the hand of God.



Beautiful Islands
Directed by Tomoko Kana.

This captivating and visually breathtaking documentary focuses on the Tuvalu, Venice and Shishmaref. Each of those is an island threatened to completely disappear because of flooding caused by climate change. The film opens with a gorgeous aerial view of Tuvalu, the world’s fourth smallest country, located in the South Pacific. Little kids frolic in a grassy area flooded by rainwater, swing off of a slanted palm tree into the ocean, play sports together in an small field, and catch turtles. 13-year-old Sileta seems so happy there on the island along with her 10-year-old sister, Amata. Sileta’s aunt moved to New Zealand because she was afraid of the high tide flooding in Tuvalu. Everyone seem to live in harmony with nature there and has formed strong bonds through a sense of community---they don’t talk on the phone or use email to communicate---which helps to cope with their challenges by sharing them with others.

Nature represents happiness and, most importantly, provides them with food and shelter. Their ways of life, though, are change because of climate change and, worst of all, their island will probably be the first one in the world to disappear from flooding. The island of Venice in Italy hasn’t fared any better. Venice is filled with historical landmarks that are threatened to be ruined by high tide flooding. Floodwaters from very high tides spill into all the tourist attractions and even into restaurants, shops and hotel, namely, the famous Hotel Danieli where everyone must wear boots in almost knee-deep water. A passionate worker at a glass factory explains that Veneticians have been making glassware for over one thousand years. In Shishmaref, a small village located on an island in the westernmost part of Alaska, suffers from melting ice caused by escalating temperatures.

A Native Alaskan father explains the importance of land and sea as sources of food. Two parents give their account of how their son fell through the ice during a hunting trip and died because the ice was too thin. Dashi was an expert skier and had dreamed of qualifying for the Olympics. There is a photo of him wearing a red, white and blue ski race suit even though he never got to the trials. Ice use to be found in Shishmaref through the month of July, but not anymore because of climate change—as one of the parents keenly, “When nature changes, the world changes.” Director Tomoko Kana wisely allows the images to speak for themselves sans a musical score, patronization, preachiness or the use of voice-over narrations.

By filming the natives going about their daily lives, she puts a human face on the issue of climate change. The sounds and images of nature together with the historical landmarks and the sense of community and unique culture in each island show you precisely how valuable and vital those locations are. After all, we live in an ecosystem and a cosmopolitan where one small change can make a huge difference in the long run. 

Beautiful Islands offers practical, hopeful solutions to the issue of climate change by inspiring you to put down your blackberry and/or shut off your computer and go out to experience nature in all of its wonders to understand why it should be preserved and, most importantly, to discuss the issue of climate change with others face-to-face, a task that’s easier said than done in technology-obsessed, alienated societies. At a running time of 1 hour and 46 minutes, Beautiful Islands manages to be breathtaking, captivating and inspirational. It’s a non-preachy, vital wake-up call for all of mankind.



Movie Review: 'Beautiful Islands'

July 23, 2010 | Rating: 2.5/5
Gary Goldstein  Los Angeles Times  Top Critic

In capturing the beauty and culture of three far-flung islands endangered by climate change, "Beautiful Islands" director Tomoko Kana has created more of a travelogue with a message than a satisfying documentary. Though its stirring imagery and evocative human interactions sincerely attempt to reflect global warming's effect on the South Pacific's Tuvalu (the world's fourth-smallest country); Venice, Italy; and Shishmaref, Alaska; the film's lack of effective structure or unifying narration — not to mention a more discerning editor than Kana — make for a mostly uninvolving sit. In short, it's pretty but dull.

The filmmaker spends 30 or so minutes on each distinctive island (plus an overlong coda back on Tuvalu), leisurely presenting their postcard-like vistas, native populations and local traditions and livelihoods. These amorphous introductions eventually give way to several eye-opening examples of how increasingly high tides, attributed here to global warming, are affecting each area: Tuvalu is considered to be the first country ever to sink, while Venice's canals are seen overflowing to almost surreal effect and Shishmaref residents ponder mass emigration before their beloved land vanishes from erosion.

This is vital information, to be sure, but also too complex and potentially sweeping to impart without context or professional punditry. Note to Kana: A picture isn't always worth 1,000 words.

"Beautiful Islands." MPAA rating: PG for some violent images involving animals, brief nudity, language and smoking. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes. In English, Tuvaluan and Italian with English subtitles. At Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills.


July 22, 2010 |
Tim Grierson L.A. Weekly  Top Critic


At a time when most advocacy documentaries seek to pummel you into a state of righteous fury, Japanese director Tomoko Kana’s Beautiful Islands is so gentle in its techniques that it’s practically radical by comparison. Employing a dispassionate, observational style, the film transports the viewer to three locations: the tiny South Pacific island nation Tuvalu, Italy’s romantic Venice, and the remote Alaskan village of Shishmaref. Their common thread is the threat they face from global warming, which is causing their lands to be flooded by nearby seas and oceans. Executive-produced by feature director Hirokazu Koreeda (Nobody Knows, Still Walking), Beautiful Islands shares with his movies a skill for depicting mundane human behavior in ways that suggest deeper universal truths: Kana presents each island’s customs in as unobtrusive a manner as possible, only gradually revealing how the locals are coping with the rising waters, which endanger their way of life. Consequently, anyone looking for the standard emotional cues of most topical documentaries, which tell you exactly when to boo or cheer, will be hopelessly adrift with this delicate, meditative film that offers no solutions to the planet-wide crisis. With a movie this placid, Kana risks crafting a picturesque travelogue enchanted with its own passivity, but Beautiful Islands’ tranquil rhythms ultimately work to underscore the documentary’s essential sadness — slowly, and right under our noses, parts of our shared world are being systematically washed away. (Tim Grierson) (Music Hall)