Hiroshima (Cert 12)
1 Disc Blu-ray (Distributor: Arrow Academy) Running Time: 105 minutes approx.
Release Date – July 13th
The events of August 6th 1945 will live in infamy, so much so that even if you don’t recognise the date, just hearing the name Hiroshima is enough to understand. Many dramatisations followed in its wake, one in particular being the book Children Of The Atom Bomb (Genbaku no Ko) by Arata Osada.
Written in 1951, Osada used the testimonies of 67 survivors of the bomb as the basis of his story, which impressed the Japan Teachers Union who felt should be made into a film. The following year, Kaneto Shindo obliged but the JTU were unhappy with it, feeling Shindo turned it into a melodrama and removed the political rhetoric, so they sought a remake.
Hideo Sekigawa’s Hiroshima was released in 1953, resonating deeply with the Japanese despite the graphic depictions of the effects of the bomb and the harrowing fall out for the survivors. Effectively a story of two parts, it begins in the present day of 1953, with a class of teenagers listening to a recording of a first person account the events of eight years earlier when they were much younger.
Not only do the narrator’s words bring back traumatic memories of the period but some of the class still suffer the physical effects. One girl passes out and is taken to hospital where she is diagnosed with Leukaemia, a direct result from the A-bomb blast. While her classmates are concerned, their teacher decides to recount the horrors for those too young to remember.
Jumping back to August 1945, Hiroshima was like any other Japanese city was a hive of activity doing their bit for the war effort. Army generals would address citizens as if they were soldiers, instilling the doctrine of honouring and sacrificing everything for the Emperor and bringing down the evil American and British enemy. Luckily, this is the only mention for us Brits, the Yanks are not as lucky as you’d might expect.
On the fateful day, young kids attend junior school, housewives go about their domestic duties, shopkeepers serve their customers, older kids and adults do their duty for the war effort and soldiers patrol the streets. A plane is heard overhead, which many are able to identify by its sound, recognising it as a B-Plane. Moments later, there is a huge flash of light and an explosion.
Everywhere is consumed by thick clouds of dust and the sound of bricks hitting concrete, wood cracking, metal clanging, and screams of panic. As the clouds slowly dissipate, few buildings are still standing; fewer people are standing and those that are can barely walk from the shock, covered in dust, burnt skin hanging off the limbs now exposed through their ravaged clothes.
For a film made in 1953, the graphic detail in this relentlessly distressing re-enactment of the bombing is not just unprecedented in its frankness but also profoundly upsetting in its ability to shock to this day. Quite how survivors among the Japanese audiences were able to relive this after just eight years is mind-blowing yet a testament to their noted indomitable spirit.
Sekigawa takes us into the heart of the immediate aftermath of the bombing, a chaotic scene of carnage, devastation, fatalities, and confusion, performed by a committed and unflinching cast of young and old actors, and hundreds of extras many of whom were actual survivors of the bombing. Again, imagine reliving something like this for the big screen and without pay? It may only last ten minutes but it is ten of the most affecting, blood-freezing, endlessly tragic and frighteningly real minutes you’ll see in film.
It doesn’t get any better as we are treated to sights of newly orphaned kids covered in burns, sickly adults coughing up blood, pretty women with scarred faces, and numerous counts of vacant blank stares where there was once a vibrant smile. In the present day part, the teacher explains to the class that many people still suffer from the “A-Bomb sickness” whilst the scarred and mutilated are largely hidden from public view.
Presumably, this was part of the political slant Shindo omitted from his film, just the first of many incidents where the military and governing bodies attempted to sweep this under the carpet to stop the public from getting upset by it! Their belief was it would be better if they didn’t mention atomic bombs and put it down to normal wartime activity and Japan shall make America pay for their actions.
This is in some ways harder to endure than the actual human suffering shown, a vexing scenario of blinkered military oafs trying to rally the country with shallow declarations of the Japanese army’s might when two-hundred thousand people were killed in an instant right under their noses. Fortunately, Japan has since changed its attitude but that still doesn’t placate any disgust evoked watching this today.
As mentioned earlier, this has a very anti-American subtext and a barely subtle one at that. In the final act, orphaned street kids begging for food from Americans by saying “hun-gari” in English, are told they could get more from US visitors by selling them bones of the dead from a cave nearby. Along with the reading of a supportive epistle to the Japanese written by a German decries the bombing as an example of US racism, the residual resentment couldn’t be any more blatant.
Maybe the need to confront this nightmare via this pseudo-documentary/dramatisation was the catharsis the Japanese needed to move on and rebuild itself, which of course it did. Not all ill feeling was expunged since Godzilla arrived a year later but the optimistic ending does indicate a forwarding looking attitude is being propagated here.
Hiroshima is a name that will live on in infamy but this film deserves to live on as a vital document, not just of a notorious and shamefully pivotal moment in history, but as a powerfully provocative piece of cinema as a healing tool as well as an informative one.
Japanese Language Uncompressed Audio
Hiroshima Nagasaki Download 2011 Documentary
Video Essay by Jasper Sharp
Archive Interview With Actress Yumeji Tsukioka
First Pressing only: Illustrated Collector’s Booklet
Rating – ****
Man In Black