Rivaling HBO’s CHERNOBYL in terms of raw drama, Netflix’s THE DAYS is a powerful story that cements the adage that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. In 2011, Japan suffered a triple whammy: a devastating earthquake, resulting 14-meter-tall tsunami, and subsequent nuclear disaster that rivaled Chernobyl in terms of danger. Sticking as close to the facts as possible, THE DAYS presents a gripping tale of the tragedy as experienced by the workers at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
As for the disaster, it could have been even more devastating. The earthquake and tsunami knocked out power to the nuclear reactors, resulting in the workers being unable to cycle water to manage the reactor temperatures and resulting pressure. They couldn’t even use their instruments to monitor what was going on. As the fuel rods became exposed and melted down, they released radiation and triggered catastrophic explosions. In time, they threatened to spread radiation across Japan, making at least half the country uninhabitable for generations. Luckily for the world, they didn’t, though for days the reactors were almost fully out of control, and important mechanisms to fix the problem weren’t even approachable for humans due to high radiation levels.
The Japanese miniseries follows an ensemble cast of actors playing various workers, managers, and executives at the power company managing the plant, along with politicians and military personnel trying to stave off disaster. The script masterfully portrays people and institutions in crisis, showing them coming to grips with the disaster and working to solve unprecedented problems with ingenuity, only for cascading effects to thwart them and create new, even bigger problems. The politicians and company executives often get in the way, sometimes out of frustration for lack of information and other times for optics, until they realize what all of Japan is facing and pull out all the stops to help.
Similarly, the managers and workers at the plant slowly realize how hopeless their situation is and struggle emotionally to remain on duty and fight to the last possible second despite the odds and growing risks to dying horribly. One of the things that I loved about CHERNOBYL was the incredible heroism involved in preventing an incredible national and global disaster, and this is on full display in THE DAYS. Also the realism in depicting the reverse: the horror and despair, people cracking under the strain. In one scene, a nuclear expert watching an explosion erupt at the plant falls to his knees keening like a dying animal, and I think he was speaking for all of them, what was going on in their heads.
Overall, I loved this one. A disaster miniseries that is gripping, horrifying, inspiring, and true.