Hiroshima isn’t your average film. It’s not the kind of movie that you’re going to throw on to be entertained for a couple of hours. It tells the story of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945, an event that began the end of World War 2, but that many now consider to be a war crime due to the huge number of civilian deaths.
The film was made shortly after the official US occupation of Japan ended in 1951, and the country was allowed to freely talk about the horrors of the event. Until then the fact that American aid centres did little to help victims, but rather studied those who suffered after-effects of the bombing was little known, and censorship was that harsh that one newspaper was completely shut down because of its coverage. This film was the first chance for the nation of Japan to talk about this event on film.
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Hiroshima is based on the written eye-witness accounts of children that survived the attack, and much of the film is shown through the eyes of the youngest victims. Even those sections of the film that take place after the event follow the children who have grown into teens, and the long lasting effects they have suffered, such as leukaemia. The only character who is followed for any real length of time is a father whose wife burnt to death in the ruins of their home, who then searches the devastated city for his three children.
The fact that the film is based on eye-witness events, was filmed only seven years after the attack, and employed a number of survivors as extras, hammers home how realistic the film is. Setsuko Thurlow, who spoke at the film’s recent screening at the Toronto Film Festival, said that the only thing that the film didn’t quite capture was the eerie silence that fell over people, instead depicting many crying and wailing survivors. Other than perhaps adding this small element, the film doesn’t shy away from the very real horrors that took place, and shows the devastation that occurred. Broken buildings and debris litter the streets, with burnt bodies lying among the ruins. Children lay dead in their homes and at the remains of their schools, whilst babies covered in blood and ash cry for help. The images are supported by a haunting score by Akira Ifukube, who would go on to score another film that addressed the horrors of nuclear attacks, Godzilla.
I honestly lost track the number of times that the film brought me to the point of tears, and I wanted to turn it off at times, yet felt obliged to sit through it, to see some of the horror that was inflicted upon the people of Hiroshima. This was a city that was chosen as a target because of its factories that made munitions for the war, but it was innocent men, women, and children who suffered. There’s been much discussion over the decades of whether the strike was justified or not, and whether it should be considered a war crime; this film helps to put a human face on that discussion, to show the victims of this act. The film even posits the idea that perhaps the Japanese were chosen to suffer at the hands of the A-Bomb because they weren’t seen as the same as white people by the Americans, who used the attack on Pearl Harbour as justification.
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One line that stuck out for me when watching the film came from a wounded man sitting surrounded by the hurt and dying in one of the hospitals. He looked at the suffering around him and said ‘This is Hell’. This might be one of the most succinct ways of describing Hiroshima. It’s hell. It’s a film about the pain and suffering of this awful event, made by the people who lived through it. Films made decades later always have a sense of detachment, but that’s not the case here. Hiroshima hits you hard.
There’s not a huge amount of extras on the disc in regards to the making of the film, save for an interview with one of the actresses, Yumeji Tsukioka. However, it has a feature length documentary featuring interviews with some of the survivors of the event that’s amazing, and adds a lot to the viewing experience, acting as a companion to the film.
This is not a release that’s for a casual moviegoer looking to relax with a film, but it is an astonishing piece of cinema that gives a very personal voice to such a well known event. If you have interest in the history of cinema this will be a standout release, and if you want to learn more about the real event this is well worth the watch, but it’s certainly not for the faint hearted.
Hiroshima is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Academy.