A terrifying account of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, for children...
But I still had little idea of what the people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki had actually experienced during and after the nuclear blasts in 1945. The only depiction in a movie I saw in the 90s was a brief scene in Black Rain (Japan, 1989), shown on TV.
Keiji Nakazawa was six years old when the bomb dropped, as he was on his way to school in the centre of Hiroshima. A split-second quirk of fate saved his life. In an instant, everything around him changed. The city was levelled, there were very few buildings with foundations of steel and stone. Anyone who wasn't instantly vaporised had been hit by the explosive blast and then a firestorm. The survivors could then die from the effects of radiation in the next few minutes, months or years... Keiji stayed on the outskirts of Hiroshima as it started to rebuild itself.
However the animated film (produced by Madhouse) is strangely aimed at children, the title music is fiercely corny and upbeat. It even starts like a Ghibli movie following boisterous six-year old Gen (pronounced with a hard 'g', as in 'begin') and his younger brother trying to scrape fun and food out of the rural war-torn Japanese countryside. Gen's father struggles to feed his family and decries the rulers of Japan for not surrendering. But the boys still have fun together and little mischievous adventures - the children even look like typical Ghibli creations, the youngest child has a huge mouth and a big grin. The animation is fairly simple but well-observed. Occasionally, there's a brief voiceover about the state of the war and the bomb being prepared.
It's an extraordinary film, with a deceptively comic start. I've not seen such an explicit, realistic vision of what it was like on that day. It's horrific, even depicted with simple drawings. I still don't think it's possible for a live-action equivalent of the same sequence. A recent Japanese TV adaption expanded the story to three hours, spending more time with Gen's family, but the scene of the bombing is quite short, treated in a similar way to The Day After.
Again, the story strives for optimism and the chirpy opening title song seems inappropriate, but the story is gritty and memorable, still refusing to pull punches. The sequel is included as a double-bill on the DVDs.
|The atomic dome in modern Hiroshima|
(photo by Hirotsugu Mori, 2006)
Of course now the Japanese nightmare of deadly invisible radiation is no longer confined to World War 2. The recent earthquake damage to the nuclear power station at Fukushima has again spread radioactivity into the ground, the sea and the air, with little information as to where it is and what the effects can be, short term or long term. It's like a slow-motion replay of the aftermath of Hiroshima.