Japanese filmmaker documents life under quarantine in Nanjing

Ni Tao
The former employee of Japan's largest national broadcaster NHK made a video depicting the lengths the city had gone to stem?spread of the coronavirus.
Ni Tao

Provided by Hezhimeng.

When Ryo Takeuchi returned from Japan to China in the middle of February, he was stunned to learn he would have to stay at home for 14 days of quarantine, even though he had already tested negative for the coronavirus during health screenings when he entered the country.

The Japanese documentary-maker has lived in Nanjing, capital of eastern China's Jiangsu Province, for the past seven years. When he complained vociferously on social media about the seemingly “over-strict" measures, he received plenty of comments from ordinary people explaining the necessity of self-quarantine.

This prompted the former employee of Japan's national broadcaster NHK to record the lengths his adopted city has gone to in stemming the spread of the virus.

"This video was partly inspired by my growing anxiety about the situation in Japan," says Takeuchi, who is fluent in Chinese after years at Nanjing University.

In a phone interview, he told Shanghai Daily that he was worried by the sight of people in Japan going to concerts and taking public transportation without masks, even as confirmed cases of infection increased every day.

"I think the Japanese public hasn't taken enough precautions. People don’t seem to understand the gravity of the epidemic," said Takeuchi, who now has a fan base close to 2 million on Sina Weibo. "So I decided to tell the real story of China's struggle against the virus through this video."

The 12-minute movie begins with a drone broadcasting messages against mass gatherings. Takeuchi then takes his audience on a fact-finding trip around Nanjing to see how the epidemic has affected economic and social life there.

For instance, the notion of safe social distancing has hit many professions. In one scene, Takeuchi settled into the backseat of a cab to find the masked driver had doubled down on safety by separating himself from passengers with a Plexiglas sheet.

In another sign of the pervasive awareness of social distancing, Takeuchi and a colleague are seen ordering their food at McDonald's through mobile apps and then eating separately at their own tables with a partition board between them.

Even as life slowly returns to normal, security remains tight in the city of 8.2 million people, with everyone required to show their ID to enter some of the most popular tourist attractions, including the famous Confucius Temple.

What impressed him the most was when he took daily necessities to a colleague who was quarantined in a hotel after a trip abroad, but was denied entry to the lobby.

To comply with the "touch-free" policy, hotel staff left his items in an elevator that rose to his friend’s floor, and called him to pick them up.

"I knew quarantine was strict, but I never expected it to be this strict."

Takeuchi has raised his family in Nanjing, and at first, the rules and restrictions had struck him as "stringent" and even "a bit exaggerated,” but he soon realized they were pivotal to controlling the outbreak. It has now been several days since Nanjing reported its last infection, a result he credits to a strong sense of discipline that permeates every segment of society, from the top echelons of government to every ordinary citizen.

Takeuchi normally takes about two to three weeks to plan, make and edit a video, but from beginning to end the Nanjing process took only three days. Almost as soon he uploaded the video (with Japanese subtitles), it went viral, drawing millions of clicks and going on to be circulated by all major Japanese media organizations.

The video is now available on YouTube and other sharing sites, in languages including French, Indonesia and Vietnamese, and has been an instant hit.

"Many who saw it were amazed the efforts by Chinese government to protect the populace and said Japan needed to learn from China," says Takeuchi.

He has lost count of the number of times the video has been shared or reposted, but it would be safe to assume that the Japanese version has been viewed “tens of millions of times,” while the version with English subtitles was briefly one of the top 3 trending topics on Weibo.

Although the two weeks of quarantine were boring, on hindsight, Takeuchi sees it as a small personal loss compared to other’s huge sacrifices to contain the public health care crisis.

"Japanese viewers only know from news reports that the outbreak subsided in China recently," says Takeuchi, who works for a video studio run by his wife, a Nanjing native. "They didn't know the behind-the-scenes, nuts-and-bolts story of how this happened."

He added that many Japanese admired China's determination to combat the outbreak, even going so far as to lock down entire cities or close factories, schools and businesses.

The filmmaker, who is enjoying his new-found fame following the popularity of the video, said the decisiveness and promptness of China's action had reassured him as a father of two. Nonetheless, he conceded that China's measures may not be suited to other countries, with their different political systems and social conditions.

Takeuchi, originally from Japan's Chiba Prefecture, adjacent to Tokyo, said he and his team are now working on a new documentary called "A Day in our Battle Against Covid-19," in which footage contributed by people across China about quarantine in their hometowns are collaged into a single video.

"We see an amazing array of responses to the virus, which is really interesting," he said.

Special Reports