Science focus: NHK explores “Origins of Land”

In advance of the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers, NHK senior producer Takehiro Asai tells realscreen how its producers are "breaking the safety zone" to chart the evolution of the biggest new island in recorded history to date.
November 25, 2015

In advance of the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers, NHK senior producer Takehiro Asai┬átells realscreen how its producers are “breaking the safety zone” to chart the evolution of the biggest new island in recorded history to date.

In 2013, a volcanic island emerged from the depths of the Pacific Ocean, 1,000 kilometers (or 620 miles) south of Tokyo. Nestled within Japan’s Ogasawara island chain, the land mass, first christened Niijima, has grown at a rapid pace for more than a year and has since fused with another island in the chain, Nishinoshima. The ongoing evolution of the island, now officially known as Nishinoshima, and the lessons it can teach scientists will be the focal points of Origins of Land, an upcoming special from Japanese pubcaster NHK and digital factual SVOD service CuriosityStream. An as-yet-unnamed French broadcaster may also be boarding the project soon. It is set to be completed by early 2016.

takehiro asai, nhk

Takehiro Asai, NHK

The seeds for the program were sown through meetings with scientists and engineers over a year ago, according to Takehiro Asai (pictured), senior producer in NHK’s Special Programs division. The 1 x 60-minute special is utilizing drones, unmanned submersibles and multicopters, all outfitted with specialized cameras, to capture the action from air and sea in 4K HD. As the conditions on the island are unpredictable and inhospitable – with frequent volcanic eruption, the occasional pyroclastic surge and poisonous gas in the air among the hazards – NHK says the use of such technologies will allow producers to “break the safety zones” and chart the progress of the biggest new island in recorded history to date, and what some scientists claim could point towards the beginnings of a new continent.

The devices are also being used to collect lava samples and look for unique species living in close proximity to the island, which has exploded in size to a 4,000-meter submarine volcano. “An unmanned helicopter captured the first-ever close-up shots of lava flows and the crater; newly developed static video cameras recorded the ecology of rare birds; and rock samples proved new hypotheses about the formation of the continents,” says Asai of the progress made on the special thus far.

Japanese and global media outlets have been following the developing story over the past 18 months. But beyond that level of curiosity, Asai and the team at NHK expect that the comprehensive look at the story of the island, and what its formation adds to our understanding of our planet’s geologic and biological diversity, will “take viewers on a grand scientific adventure and give them a front-row view of land creation that came, quite literally, out of the blue.”

“We overcame great challenges to achieve what is arguably the fundamental goal of television: to give people watching at home an encounter with something they have never seen,” he adds.

  • Our Science Focus feature first appeared in the November/December 2015 issue of realscreen magazine, which is out now. Not a subscriber? Click here for more information.
About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor-in-chief and content director for Realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to Realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.