Introduction to Hibakusha Cinema
...the Japanese failure to come to terms with Hiroshima is one which is shared by everybody in the world today. No one has come to terms with the bomb -- least of all, perhaps, the people upon whom it was originally inflicted. When the thing itself has become the very epitome of chaos unleashed, it would be expecting too much that an ordered and directed reply could be instantly presented.
Donald Richie, 1961
When American film scholar and long-term resident of Japan, Donald Richie, wrote these words over thirty years ago, he was responding to the Japanese subgenre of cinema which had dealt with the atom bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Three decades on, the question lingers, does this appraisal remain valid? Have post-war generations come to terms with the bomb and what 'Hiroshima' means? Are there now, or have there ever been, 'adequate' and 'appropriate' cinematic responses to these issues?
Hibakusha Cinema is an attempt -- perhaps momentarily -- to reorient critical focus upon a rarely discussed, yet important feature of Japanese cinema. 1
The essays collected here represent a mix of Japanese and western (pan-Pacific) scholarship harnessing multidisciplinary methodologies, ranging from close textual analysis, archival and historical argument, anthropological assessment, literary and film comparative analyses through to psychological and ideological hermeneutics.
As Donald Richie reflected many years ago, "the attitude to Hiroshima and Nagasaki has changed considerably in the [past] years". Hence, the chronological nature of this anthology is aimed at providing an historical approach to the hibakusha genre within its social context, i.e. rare and older commentary combined with new writing specially commissioned for this work.
But why a book on hibakusha cinema? Well, partly as a means of responding to the 50th anniversary of the atom bombings, respectively on 6 and 9 August 1995, and partly as a way of foregrounding often ignored popular culture responses to these catastrophic events which have informed much of the political, social, psychological and cultural milieu of the past five decades. This period is only now being recognised for the submerged eschatological anxieties and clandestine, anti-democratic activities performed by nation-states predicated as necessary in the atomic age. 2 As Michael Perlman has remarked,
We resist remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki not only because of our tendencies to deny and avoid death, and also the nuclear reality; this resistance can also be imagined, not as ours, but as the resistance of place itself to the destruction of memories, of its distinct boundaries. 3
Hiroshima and Nagasaki evoke powerful and sombre associations of holocaust and apocalypse, a microcosm of the twentieth century's staging ground for a global nuclear war which so far has remained, in Jacques Derrida's terms, "fabulously" textual. 4 In assessing the nuclear epoch we inhabit, psychologist Robert Lifton asks "is Hiroshima our text?" In many ways the following essays explore the metatextuality of Hiroshima and Nagasaki via film and television renderings of hibakusha experiences, as well as Japanese projections of future wars.
Contemporary geopolitical fears, for instance, of a nuclear armed North Korea, test-firing ballistic missiles in range of Japan were touched on as early as 1960 in The Final War (Dai Sanji Sekai Taisen -- Yonju-Ichi Jikan no Kyofu), when an accidental atomic explosion over South Korea leads to all out global war. Other concerns such as the stockpiling of plutonium by Japan, ostensibly for fast-breeder reactors but which could quickly be reused for weapons, and the ongoing proliferation of nuclear reactors around the country (currently over 40) have been addressed in dramas such as Revenge of the Mermaid (Ningyo Densetsu, 1985) and Dreams (Yume, 1990).
The influence of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japanese cinema can be, not surprisingly, more allegorical than overt, as Keiko I. McDonald indicates. 5 Repeated motifs of closure in yakuza (gangster) cinema contain images of the ruined atomic monument in Hiroshima, symbolizing the yakuza's nihilistic world headed for oblivion, often juxtaposed with "futile" and "absurd" pre-war notions of imperialism and honour. 6 Similarly, the narrative fantasy afforded by science fiction has long enabled vieled references to the atomic catastrophe, such as in Blood Type Blue (1978) which depicts a minority of Japanese subjected to an alien craft's radiation emmission that alters the colour of their blood and leads to a popular campaign of discrimination against them -- a clear parable about the plight of the hibakusha .
Questions of authenticity, objectivity and ideology become increasingly problematic in the realm of artistically depicting state-sanctioned mass extermination and/or the legitimatacy of survivor testimony (consider for example the recent controversy surrounding Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List, 1994). Many hibakusha , for example, feel that they were the deliberate guinea pigs of US experimentation, in collusion with later Japanese Governments and victims of a conspiracy of silence. 7 Such sentiments have an even stronger resonance since recently declassified US Energy Department records indicate a long history of non-consensual, lethal human experimentation with radioactive substances in the USA and elsewhere. 8 Certainly the presence of one of the principal medical establishments in Hiroshima after the war, the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, with its policy of research without treatment, justify such hostile suspicions.
During occupation, while a concerted effort was mounted to censor and officially deny the hazards of radiation and any long-term manifestation, US scientists were collecting and collating evidence of just such effects at radiological institutes which refused to treat hibakusha but nevertheless studied them by the tens of thousands. 9 This seemingly blasé attitude is reflected by the American 'star' presence of Nick Adams playing a 'sympathetic' US nuclear researcher in Frankenstein Conquers the World (Furankenshutain Tai Baragon, 1965), a co-production between Toho studios and American International Pictures. After being thanked by a young female hibakusha , Adams confides to a Japanese colleague that the girl will be dead within a month, yet clearly the paternalistic staff will not inform her of this. Shortly after, inside his radiation laboratory, Adams reflects: "Yeah, the story of Hiroshima is tragic, but it's given us the opportunity to study the tissues of the human body. It's ironic but science progresses in this way."
The very real exploitation hibakusha experience within Japanese society has traditionally made them suspicious of film and television treatments, which by necessity will dramatically alter accounts for purposes of plot, exposition and reaching the maximum potential audience desired. But it would be difficult to conceive of a more blatant pitch attempting to capitalize on the atomic attacks than the display advertisement from Variety a few years back: 10
"My psychotherapy patient killed 130,000 people (50 years ago in 1995) by dropping the A-bomb over Hiroshima."
Dr. G. Van Warrebey
Want To Do A Psychodrama?
Turning to the collection of essays assembled here, Donald Richie's virtually unknown essay from 1961 "Mono no Aware: Hiroshima on Film" was the first English language writing to assess the specific genre of film which deals with the atom bombings. Over 30 years on, this pioneering study still contains some of the most lucid commentary on Japanese approaches to their nuclear experience. While somewhat couched in the dichotomised rhetoric of cold war discourse, Richie convincingly argues that Hiroshima and Nagasaki should be viewed principally as "symbols", not only for the Japanese but for the world, and as symbols their dynamic, evolving nature should be recognised.
Richie maintains, from the outset, the western view that the A-bombings was that of an "atrocity" whereas the Japanese saw these more as an act of god, and only later 'learned' to perceive and co-opt the bombings as terrible deeds from the guilt expressed by occupation forces. Yet this appropriation was transformed into something else; instead of horror and outrage, "the Japanese substituted an elegiac regard which has remained the single constant element in the changing interpretations of the Hiroshima symbol."
Cinematically, the initial response was not one of atrocity but that of "tragedy", best understood by the near-Buddhistic lamentation mono no aware , "what we feel today we forget tomorrow; this is perhaps not as it should be, but it is as it is". The sentiment is evident in The Bell of Nagasaki (Nagasaki no Kane, 1950), I'll not Forget the Song of Nagasaki (Nagasaki no uta wa Wasureji, 1952) and Children of the Atom Bomb (Hiroshima no Ko, 1952). After occupation ended, however, the "new reading" of Hiroshima became politicised and "the long expected resentment did appear" in polemical films such as Hiroshima (1953), frequently made by communists. As a result, Richie argues the very absence of mainstream features on the subject is based on a
disinclination of many filmmakers to deal with the theme because to do so involves committing themselves to the political left, at least in the eyes of their audiences. The Party has so frequently used the bomb as a political weapon that any sympathetic rendering of its victims has come to mean in Japan that the director or producer is probably Communist.
Curiously, unlike the overt and direct censorship during occupation, Richie also suggests a covert censorship of many bomb films by Japanese Government officials pressuring the large distribution companies to either not release films, or relegate them to obscure suburban theatres while distorting their marketing campaigns to make them less appealing. Hence, virtually all bomb films made in the period up to 1961 are independent productions made outside the industry.
For Richie, the popular Godzilla and alien visitor films represent "perhaps the most common reading of the Hiroshima symbol", although at a "once-removed attitude". Reflecting the "the new Switzerland" armed neutrality role which Japan adopted during the period, these films portray defeat of the invading monster "not by warlike methods, but by technological know-how" often with a Japanese scientist sacrificing himself to make the world safe and aliens working in concert with the Japanese to prevent the planet from destroying itself. Their metaphoric narratives manage to combine the "never again" sentiment of the independent bomb features and mono no aware . Ironically, by avoiding moral commentary and merely wagging "the warning finger", Richie attests their "very refusal to make a responsible statement may be what makes this view so extremely popular."
One reason why "a responsible attitude toward Hiroshima is seldom seen on the screen" is the imperative to distort reality for dramatic effect. As an exception to this norm Richie cites Kurosawa Akira's Record of a Living Being (Ikimono no Kiroku, 1955) and Alain Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959). Although Richie finds the Kurosawa film a "qualified" success, it is for him the best film on the subject of the time, partly because it has a universality about nuclear fear not confined to Japan, uncommon for the time, and that it evaded the mono no aware sentiment.
Ironically, the cinema of Hiroshima and Nagasaki actually comprises very little direct artistic input from hibakusha . One major exception is I'll not Forget the Song of Nagasaki (Nagasaki no Uta wa Wasureji, 1952) directed by veteran Japanese filmmaker and hibakusha , Tasaka Tomotaka. Forthrightly described by Sato Tadao as embarrassing "rubbish", Tasaka was hospitalized for several years after the Hiroshima A-bombing and was perhaps isolated from the resentment of the controversial Occupation. The film is representative of the rashamen genre (a derogatory term for a mistress of a Westerner) in its depiction of a bitter woman hibakusha , blinded from the atomic blast who (initially) resists falling in love with a US serviceman. The American has come to Japan to return a piece of music manuscript he found on a battlefield. For Sato, the film quickly degenerates into "shabby submissiveness to one's fate" and reveals the "gullibility" of some Japanese. 11 The principle audience for Japanese films which concern the A-bombings are non-hibakusha Japanese, and as each year passes the number of living hibakusha diminishes. Soon there will be a generation of filmmakers/viewers who will not have direct access to survivor testimony. Future film accounts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will forever be told by third parties without the validity and accountability of survivor testimony.
Although primarily concerned with the aesthetics of science fiction, Susan Sontag's 1965 essay "The Imagination of Disaster" is included here for its historic and insightful framing of Japanese films which refer to the atom bombings via metaphor and allusion. Contextualising the science fiction genre per se as primarily concerned with disaster, Sontag views Western -- and particularly Japanese -- SF films as exorcising the mass trauma associated with the use of nuclear weapons and their possible use in future conflicts. Godzilla, Rodan et al and the alien invaders/emissaries all serve to "reflect world-wide anxieties, and serve to allay them". For Sontag, "they inculcate a strange apathy concerning the processes of radiation, contamination, and destruction" which she finds "haunting and depressing".
Twenty-two years on, Chon Noriega revisits Sontag via the writings of Noel Carrol and Robin Woods, to address the cultural implications of Japan's most enduring screen presence: Godzilla -- virtually ignored in every critical and historical commentary on Japanese film. Noriega's thesis is "that this genre -- Japan's most popular filmic export -- has been neglected seems itself to indicate the mechanics of repression at work". Indeed, the Godzilla films continue to draw top box-office, with Godzilla vs Mothra (1993) the most profitable domestic release in 1993 attaining fifth ranking in the overall top ten releases for that year. 12 Employing both a socio-historical and psychological methodology, the author points out that "in Godzilla films, it is the United States that exists as Other -- a fact that Hollywood and American Culture at large has masked". For Noriega, the personalized Japanese nuclear monsters enable a projection of Japan in relation to both America, and later, the Soviet Union, which transfers onto Godzilla the role of Other that includes atomic war, occupation and thermonuclear tests.
Like Richie on Hiroshima, Noriega recognises the evolution of the monster symbol over the historical range of the genre, reflecting contemporary geopolitical and social concerns such as fears of global war, fallout from nuclear testing and international cooperation against mutual threats. Ultimately, the films provide a "reinterpretation (or retextualisation) of the past that allows Japan to examine repressed anxieties within a historical context. The monster surfaces only when -- as in the case of rapid postwar industrialization and the new cold war -- the lessons of the past are overlooked in writing the future".
If the Godzilla cycle of Japanese films have been critically marginalized, then serious study of the fecund Japanese animation addressing nuclear themes is equally rare. For Japanese culture critic Inuhiko Yomota cartoons and animation are "a fabulously protean creative genre, encompassing an incredibly diverse range of material over the course of the 80s" frequently including imagery of ecological rebirth in a postnuclear wasteland. For Yomota twin themes dominate this product: "nostalgia for the recent past [and] a futuristic projection of an earth of innocent, untainted children left behind in the wake of a nuclear holocaust". 13 Ben Crawford's essay included here compares Japanese and Western approaches to the theme and questions the apparent dichotomy which portrays American and Japanese animation (such as The Simpsons, Doraemon and The Silent Service) as self-reflexive and suspicious of nuclear technologies, while manga properties are often regarded as militaristic and violent fantasies. For Crawford, the Japanese equivalent of Generation X, the shin jin rui (new human beings), is characterized by an all pervaisive mass media, nihilism, mutation and suicide.
Crawford argues the emergence of "robot-enhanced warfare" animation in Japan from the 1970s onwards replaced the overtly pacifist anime creations of the 1950s and 1960s (such as the benevolent atomic-powered Astro Boy) with an obsessive, "romanticised image of war" and a nostaglia for World War II and the "suicide-mission" (e.g. Space Battleship Yamato). Ultimately, the author challenges conventional cinema and cultural studies to face the complexities of analysing such cartoon properties by adopting/adapting a combination of entertainment and marketing strategies; to assess the disparate, cross-media properties frequently homogenized for the global market, and often intiated as comic strips but ending up 'mutated' as cinema features, animated television series, computer games and figurine merchandising.
Indeed, anime is so attractive to audiences that the Japanese nuclear industry turned to animation to create the TV advertising character Plutonium Boy, to peddle their fast-breeder nuclear program to the local population. Before authorities intervened and removed the ads from broadcast, they were used didactically to "educate" audiences of the benefits of stockpiling plutonium in Japan and dismiss as fantasy fears of nuclear contamination. As chirpy Plutonium Boy explains, marine life won't be contaminated by plutonium since the radioactive element is heavy and sinks to the seabed and, he demonstrates, you can safely drink a glass of water full of plutomium and not suffer any harmful effects! 14
The ideological terrain of the cult manga film Akira (1989) is examined by Freda Freiberg in her essay " Akira and the Postnuclear Sublime". Freiberg situates the film squarely within poststructuralist theory to present a reading of Akira as a postnuclear, postmodern fantasy of liberation and empowerment for Japanese youth. Certainly lateshow cult screenings and video rentals of the postnuclear apocalyptic "manga mania" and "neo-Tokyo" films of the last few years (which have been quickly appropriated by cyberpunk subcutlures in the West) attest to a cross-cultural appeal paralleling the Japanese export of atomic-monster films in the late 1950s and 1960s. 15
For her close textual reading, Freiberg draws on pastiche and schizophrenia -- the defining features of Fredric Jameson's postmodernism, Alan Wolfe's specific postapocalyptic analysis of Japanese 'survival', as well as Frances Ferguson's notion of the nuclear sublime. The social context of the (predominantly male) youth market attracted to Akira and fecund manga video is equally important, Freiberg stresses. Understandably attractive to a generation of children unfamiliar with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the narrative shuns 'traditional' Japanese family values (imagery of families is virtually non-existent and oppressive authority figures are obliterated by nuclear energy) but foregrounds an economic and technological nirvana powered by ubiquitous local and Western-style consumer fare.
Revising and expanding her landmark study of Japanese cinema under the Occupation, Kyoko Hirano, describes the concerted campaign by US official to re-educate the post-war Japanese population while prohibiting depiction of the occupation and 'anti-social' behaviour. Filmmakers were only permitted to show the bomb contextualized as a strategic instrument which was the only way to end the war. The visual effect of the bomb was to be avoided, as was any depiction of civilian victims. Indeed, anything in dramatic scenarios reminding Japanese audiences that they were under occupation was expunged.
Hirano cites the earliest documentary images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the official censorship and confiscation of footage shot by two Japanese crews in early August 1945. Ironically, one of the films was impounded by the Japanese army itself, fearing the devastating imagery would lessen the country's resolve to fight, although it was later surrendered to the occupation forces. A documentary film was released shortly after but with several changes dictated by US censors. Equally important, Hirano describes the abortive attempts by filmmakers to create projects centred on the atom bombings which were effectively gagged by censors. However, at the first opportunity once occupation ended, Shindo Kaneto (a former resident of Hiroshima though non hibakusha ) made Children of the Atom Bomb on location, and released it on August 6, 1952 to commemorate Hiroshima Memorial Day.
Most disturbing in Hirano's research are the countless examples of interventions by occupation censors, changing or halting projects due to their deemed politically incorrect contextualizing of the bombings and the official reasons for their use. These propaganda strictures were often not only contradictory, but deny the historical realities. Censors on the one hand altered projects because they placed too much emphasis on the atom bombs as decisively ending the war but it is clear that Truman 'officially' used the weapons to secure his "unconditional" surrender, justifying repeatedly that it stopped the war and saved millions of lives. 16 Similarly, censors frequently rehashed the need to demonstrate in Japanese film scenarios the military significance of the targets and eliminate reference to civilian casualties, whereas there was the deliberate choice of cities kept clear of conventional bombing for the purpose, with relatively minor military infrastructure compared proportionally with the surrounding civilian population. 17 As historian Paul Boyer states,
Truman's initial announcement downplayed the civilian casualties. Said the President: "The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians." Though soon contradicted by compelling evidence, Truman's initial assurances helped shape crucial first impressions. 18
Another issue was the manipulation of public opinion by censors to form an association of guilt so that Japanese militarism was perceived as responsible for the American decision to use atom bombs. Yet, as Gar Alperovitz and others have shown, the veritable rush to explode the atomic bombs in early August had more to do with strategically using the devices as diplomatic weapons before the Soviet Union had a chance to enter the war. 19
Abé Mark Nornes comprehensive 'archaeology' of the suppressed Nichiei documentary The Effects of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki details many of the issues touched on by Hirano Kyoko. In three distinct approaches, Nornes traces the documentary's full production history and reveals for the first time the extent of Japanese involvement; the manner in which the print of the film has been controlled, 'hidden' and exploited by various 'owners' both in Japan and the US; and via close reading of the original film and its genre context Nornes argues for the fundamental Japaneseness of the film, and then explores the way imagery from the complete film has been appropriated and interpolated by fiction and non-fiction filmmakers around the world. For Nornes, much of the now common 'rhetoric' of nuclear imagery can be traced back to this primary source which, as he asserts, is "the origin of Hibakusha Cinema".
As a compelling history, Nornes's essay describes how defiant Japanese filmmakers risked (and were prepared for) prison by hiding an incomplete, silent rush-print of the film from both Japanese and Occupation authorities. Undoubtedly less well known but equally courageous, a US Army-Airforce photographer, also fearing the Nichiei negative would disappear forever after it was officially classified secret, 'clandestinely' lodged a complete print at the USAF Central Film Repository. This film was ultimately the one deposited at the National Archives where it remains in public domain, available to all for posterity.
While few Japanese filmmakers have made a single feature directly concerning hibakusha experiences or allied concerns, let alone repeated artistic efforts in this genre, one exception is Shindo Kaneto whose early feature Children of Hiroshima (1952) was for Richie " mono no aware par excellence and a very good reflection of a genuine Japanese attitude". 20 In his history of Japanese cinema, Nöel Burch finds the film of "grandiloquent lyricism"; the fragmented narrative and semi-documentary nature making it "one of the most effective films of the period" anticipating Oshima and the Japanese new wave. 21 Shindo continued with Lucky Dragon No. 5 (Daigo Fukuryu, 1958) a dramatised reenactment of the lethal radioactive contamination which befell a Japanese fishing trawler after a US hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific. The director revisitied hibakusha concerns in Lost Sex (Honno, 1966) which concerns a young man who has become impotent from atomic radiation exposure at Nagasaki. 22
Next to Shindo in returning to such themes is Akira Kurosawa. In her essay Linda Ehrlich analyses two recent Kurosawa films which directly concern nuclear issues, Dreams and Rhapsody in August (Hachigatsu no kyoshikyoku, 1991). Compared with the whole Kurosawa oeuvre, Ehrlich finds these films marred by a "ponderous spirit" which attempts to portray innocence "but ends up only showing distortion." Some of the director's earlier narrative strengths, such as the frequent construction of complex characters as "reluctant teachers", by these two later films have "degenerated into the half-baked mixture of dynamism and passivity, of heroism and caricature".
Perhaps ironically, since Kurosawa is regarded for his mastery of action and dialogue, the author finds greatest strength in scenes of relative silence and stillness, particularly evident in his rendering of the "extremes of innocence" that are old age and childhood. Indeed, 'silence' is often a considered hibakusha response to the literally indescribable events they have experienced and, in part, a remembrance of the eerie stillness that befell both cities after the atomic pikadon (flash-boom). 23 Writing recently in Letter Bomb, Nuclear Holocaust and the Exploding Word , Peter Schwenger asks rhetorically:
Has a language that is adequate to Hiroshima been found? Among the Japanese, where one would think the need is most urgent, the answer seems to be that it has not. 24
For Schwenger, however, "the unconscious as it speaks in texts" may be the language he seeks. Perhaps the poignant space/silence/absence Kurosawa's mise-en-scene affords two elderly female hibakusha in Rhapsody in August most closely approximates this.
Ehrlich maintains that the elderly are problematically represented here less as positive role models and more as grotesques and victims, while children become unsophisticated "moralistic mouthpieces" or empty caricatures. In contrast, the author cites Mori Masaaki's anti-war animation Barefoot Gen (Hadashi no Gen, 1983) as a more satisfactory historical representation of the hibakusha , and to a lesser degree Imamura Shohei's Black Rain (Kuroi Ame, 1989) for its use of humour and pathos, in effectively foregrounding the vicissitudes of everyday life before "that incomprehensible event".
Ultimately, unlike Kurosawa's earlier examination of nuclear themes in Record of a Living Being (Ikimono no Kiroku, 1955), for Ehrlich these two later films are missed opportunities "for a voice respected throughout the world to present images of the effects of war that are at once penetrating and extensive". 25 Also, Ehrlich is critical of both Dreams and Rhapsody in August, and parenthetically Black Rain , for avoiding "the issues of Japanese responsibilities for its own wartime behaviour". The selective omissions of World War II suffering and "complexities of 'innocence'" in these texts lessens the impact of their representation of atomic bomb horrors. The critique has been echoed by critics such as Yomota Inuhiko who summarizes Japanese cinema in the 1990s as offering "transformation and stagnation" with "the age of the maestros" virtually over. 26 Symptomatic for him are both Dreams and Rhapsody in August , which were "submitted to overseas film festivals like antique objects and were treated with respect, not as fresh, living films but as offerings to the altar." Like Ehrlich's concern over selective amnesia, Yomota is more strident
the scene of Gere's apology [for the atom bombing] caused a lot of controversy. Many critics, myself included, thought Kurosawa chauvinistic in his portrayal of the Japanese as victims of the war, while ignoring the brutal actions of the Japanese and whitewashing them with cheap humanist sentiment. 27
A far more sympathetic reading of identical texts comes from James Goodwin, in his essay which contextualises the Kurosawa oeuvre as a product inseparable from the nuclear episteme . Indeed, Goodwin finds signs of atomic age destruction in Kurosawa's 1950s jidai-geki (period dramas) Rashomon (1950) and Throne of Blood (Kumonosu-ju, 1957) both in terms of catastrophic mise-en-scene and the narrative framing of social holocaust which evoke "a historical ground zero in Japan's feudal past." Such a reading is similar to Schwenger's application of Frederic Jameson's Political Unconscious , and the return of repressed, latent (subtextual) meaning inscribed onto texts materially concerned (overtly) with other themes. 28
In order to appreciate the prescient psychological verities of Kurosawa's Record of a Living Being Goodwin reconstructs the post-war socio-political context and nuclear issues of the times. Goodwin recounts how Kurosawa, working closely with long-time collaborator-composer Hayasaka Fumio (who was then terminally ill), tried to write a satire on the arms race, nuclear testing and the Hydrogen bomb but rejected the idea after failing to produce a treatment that worked. 29 While satire is not entirely foreign to Japanese nuclear cinema, it has generally been avoided. Two early examples are Kinoshita Keisuke's Carmen's Pure Love (Karumen Junjosu, 1952) which features a mother whose son died in the atom bombing, but subsequently blames it for every misfortune which comes her way, and Ichikawa Kon's A Billionaire (Okuman Choja, 1954) which depicts a demented day labourer who manufactures an A-bomb in her spare time. 30 For Robert Lifton, the satirical approach "is liberating because it punctures the image of absolute hibakusha virtue", however,
It undoubtedly expresses resentment toward hibakusha, partly based on exaggerations and political manipulations of the A-bomb experience by some of them, partly upon guilt toward them and fear of their death taint. 31
Kurosawa finally moved away from satire toward existential absurdism in his depiction of a businessman-patriarch whose preoccupation with potential nuclear omnicide leads to 'irrational' and 'insane' attempts to save his family. For Goodwin, the "irreparable breach between the collective and the individual and, equally, between the political and the psychological is [...] key to its insights into contemporary experience." The central protagonist, Nakajima, "is acutely conscious that in the atomic era reality and potentiality have merged". He revolts "by virtue of the intensity of his conviction that any sense of security in everyday life is a tenuous fiction". The sentiment is echoed in Sontag's essay concerning (Japanese) science fiction allegories as being more than just myths about "the perennial human anxiety about death,
I mean, the trauma suffered by everyone in the middle of the 20th century when it became clear [sic] that, from now on to the end of human history, every person would spend his individual life under the threat not only of individual death, which is certain, but of something almost insupportable psychologically -- collective incineration and extinction which could come at any time, virtually without warning.
Perhaps better than any other film of its time, Record of a Living Being testifies to Lifton's assertion that under the omnipresent threat of nuclear annihilation, we are all hibakusha , and mirrored in the formal compositions Kurosawa chooses, according to Goodwin, which heighten the "density of population through constant background activity" and the anonymity of city masses as potential victims.
Decades on Kurosawa revisits the apocalyptic threat of nuclear disaster in two episodes from Dreams: "Mount Fuji in Red" and "The Weeping Demon". While Goodwin acknowledges general criticisms of the film's dramatic failures and overall didacticism, following from Record of a Living Being he maintains the "conditions of resignation, powerlessness, and empty rhetoric in Dreams can nevertheless be understood as aspects of an absurdist predicament in the atomic age". Certainly, the lemming-like population fleeing the poisonous radioactive gases from an exploding nuclear reactor by throwing themselves into the sea are eerily evocative of hibakusha recollections of horrendously burned victims rushing into the river, only to drown.
Goodwin also defends perceived shortcomings with Rhapsody in August, asserting the criticisms of pacing and fragmentation should be considered as fundamental to the elderly point-of-view with which Kurosawa privileges his key protagonist, Kane. Like Ehrlich, Goodwin finds strength in the scenes depicting "prolonged, respectful silence", arguing Kurosawa avoids the filmic devices Imamura employs in Black Rain, since the "memories of those who lived through the bomb are largely unspoken in Kurosawa's film". Rather, Kurosawa deliberately adopts a strategy which minimises hibakusha discourse of the "unspeakable" events, and "demonstrates that for non hibakusha in the atomic age denial, indifference, and historical amnesia are common impairments to consciousness".
Narrative strategies which directly engage hibakusha testimony are discussed in John T. Dorsey and Naomi Matsuoka's comparative analysis of Ibuse Masuji's novel Black Rain and the Imamura film adaptation. The authors maintain that both Ibuse and Imamura adopt literary and cinematic styles which deliberately depoliticise the Hiroshima bombing, not to divorce the action from the local and historical controversy which surrounds it, but to concentrate attention 'quietly' on a single representative family as a means of depicting Japanese society and cultural life in the immediate postwar period. This reluctance by both artists to articulate a readily identifiable position regarding 'Hiroshima' has, ironically, been condemned for being either too weak in its representation or too strong.
According to Dorsey and Matsuoka irony, comedy and juxtaposition are employed by writer and filmmaker alike to demonstrate "a fundamental humility and honesty in the face of a potentially overwhelming subject matter." Other shared narrative devices are the conflation of past and 'present' (i.e. 1950) to depict the continuing effect of hibakusha suffering and injustice, and the horror of nuclear war as still relevant to the contemporary reader/audience; the use of diary extracts (as text and flashback/voiceover) to expose the folly of 'rewriting' the holocaust in order to secure a legitimate marriage for a suspected hibakusha ; and incongruous humour, seemingly juxtaposed to undercut the gravity of scenes and humanise the characters given their inhuman situation. Ultimately though, for the authors both versions of Black Rain must be questioned in their 'parochial' representation of Hiroshima and A-bomb survivors, given the context "that we all face the dangers of nuclear war on a global scale", and that the expressed authorial "politics of understatement" may indeed lead to an "acceptance of the unacceptable" only to benefit those who continue to think the unthinkable by preparing daily for nuclear apocalypse.
Similar to the diary form, yet another mode of memory informs Maya Todeschini's essay. Combining gender studies and anthropological analysis, Todeschini compares imaginary cinematic characterizations with the real personal narratives of female hibakusha based on field work carried out by the author in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Todeschini concentrates on two major films, Black Rain and Yumechio (based on a popular NHK television series) both of which feature female hibakusha as key protagonists.
While recognising the filmmakers' stated objectives to sympathetically render the plight of these characters, Todeschini interprets a common, inherent subtext present in both films -- that the representation of the female hibakusha "as a paragon of tradition" maintains an "essentializing view of A-bomb suffering"; a static and sanctified stereotype which deligitimizes their history and politics. The idealized version of the "heroic Maiden" allows for a "symbolic reconcilliation" which suits a nationalistic recollection of the war, casting the Japanese principally as victims, while evading the socio-political 'problem' of A-bomb survivors and ignoring their alienation, discrimination and marginalization.
Finally, this anthology, in its assessments of the films rendering atomic attacks on Japan and its continuing nuclear legacy, demonstrates not only a plurality of discursive strategies and motivations already extant in the genre, but indicates ongoing efforts to culturally inscribe (evolutionary) meaning onto 'Hiroshima' and 'Nagasaki' in the post-cold war world of the 1990s.
Given the current reactionary context of historical revision (a Japanese Government Minister denies the massacre by Japanese troops in Nanjing, while a conservative US Congress pressures the Smithsonian Institution to drop its planned Enola Gay exhibition in fear of upsetting WWII veterans) the need to 'remember' Hiroshima and Nagasaki through a plurairty of discourse and media is vital.
Ultimately, as Gar Alperovitz maintains,
We can do nothing today about Hiroshima; we can only look to ourselves, to our actions or our inactions, to whether we contribute by deed or by silence to fostering an environment which restrains or allows or promotes the next Hiroshima. 32
1 hibakusha (meaning 'explosion-affected person/s')
2 A fine primer on this topic is Ken Ruthven's Nuclear Criticism , Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1993. For the prevalence of post-war nuclearism, see Joel Kovel Against the State of Nuclear Terror , Pan Books, London 1983; Paul Boyer By the Bomb's Early Light: American Though and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age , Pantheon, New York 1985; and Spencer Weart Nuclear Fear, A History of Images , Harvard University Press, Cambridge 1988
3 Michael Perlman Imaginal Memory and the Place of Hiroshima , State University of New York Press, Albany 1988, p 90
4 Jaques Derrida, "No Apocalypse, Not Now (full speed ahead, seven missiles, seven missives)", Diacritics , No. 14, pp 4-10
5 Keiko I. McDonald "The Yakuza Film: An Introduction", in Arthur Nolletti Jr & David Desser (eds) Reframing Japanese Cinema: Authorship, Genre, History , Indiana University Press, Bloomington 1992, pp 186-187
6 Less subtle is the dubious rationalization in Ridley Scott's Black Rain (1989), which features an elderly yakuza chief warning visiting American detectives that the organized crime currently sweeping the US is Japanese payback for the devastating atomic and incendiary bombing that unleashed a black rain over obliterated cities four decades earlier. [Not to be confused with Imamura Shohei 's Black Rain (Kuroi Ame, 1989) released the same year].
7 See Robert Lifton Death in Life: The Survivors of Hiroshima , Penguin, London 1971, pp 362-75, passim
8 On 11 February 1995, Reuter reported that declassified US Department of Energy documents on human experimentation by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) involved over 9,000 US citizens including children, African-Americans, prisoners and mental patients. This figure does not include the hundreds of thousands of experiments conducted on behalf of the Defence Department, the Department of Health or any other US agency outside of the AEC's influence. The Australian Government, amongst others, are investigating similar claims.
9 See Paul Boyer op. cit , pp 187-88; Spencer Weart op. cit , pp 108-109; Catherine Caulfield Multiple Exposures: Chronicles of the Radiation Age , Penguin, London 1990, p. 62
10 Variety , November 23, 1992, p 11
11 Sato Tadao, Currents in Japanese Cinema , Kodansha International, NY,1982, p.198.
12 Source: Screen International , see also the 9 November, 1992 Variety special on Toho Studio's 60th anniversary, p.56.
13 Yomota Inuhiko "Speed and Nostalgia: Notes on Contemporary Japanese Culture", Zones of Love , Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney 1991, p 51
14 The Minister responsible for overseeing Japan's nuclear industry was invited by opponents to drink and glass of plutonium-laced water before a live national TV audience. Naturally, he declined.
15 See "Manga Mania", Moving Pictures International , September 10 1992, p 23
16 Gar Alperovitz Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam: The Use of the Atomic Bomb & the Confrontation with Soviet Power , Penguin, New York 1985, p. 10, passim
17 See Richard Rhodes The Making of the Atomic Bomb , Simon & Schuster, New York 1986, p 639, 713; Gar Alperovitz op cit, p 44
18 Boyer, op cit , pp 188-189.
19 Alperovitz op cit , p 52; Boyer, op cit , pp 192-93. Also see Robert L. Messer "New Evidence on Truman's Decision", in Len Ackland & Steven McGuire (eds) Assessing the Nuclear Age , Educational Foundation for Nuclear Science, Chicago 1986, pp 43-55
20 Of course the massive output of nuclear fantasy films by the Honda Ishiro, Tanaka Tomoyuki and Tsuburaya Eiji team at Toho Studios metaphorically dealt with such concerns for more than three decades.
21 Nöel Burch To the Distant Observer: Form and Meaning in the Japanese Cinema , Scholar Press, London 1979, p. 283
22 The ongoing legacy of radiation was treated earlier in Imai Tadashi's A Story of Pure Love (Junai Monogatari, 1957) which featured a young woman suffering from a painful and lingering radiation sickness.
23 Hibakusha author Sadako Kurihara explores the problematic of silence in "The Literature of Auschwitz and Hiroshima: Thoughts on Reading Lawrence Langer's The Holocaust and the Literary Imagination , translated and introduced by Richard H. Minear", Holocaust and Genocide Studies , Spring 1993, pp 91-96. Also on silence, see Lifton, op cit , p 32-34, 53, 323-24
24 Peter Schwenger, Letter Bomb: Nuclear Holocaust and the Exploding Word , Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore 1992, p 54.
25 The film is also known as I Live in Fear .
26 Yomota Inuhiko "Transformation and Stagnation: Japanese Cinema in the 1990s", Art & Text , Number 40, 1991, p 74-77
27 ibid , p 77
28 Schwenger, op cit , pp 56-57
29 Robert Lifton has suggested in Death in Life that "Richie has attributed some of the film's difficulties to Kurosawa's abrupt decision to divest it of the satirical approach he originally intended to use, following the death (from tuberculosis) of a close friend and collaborator -- which, if true, would be another example of the way in which residual guilt from a death immersion, even on this individual scale, can limit psychological and artistic freedom". Lifton, op cit , p 490. Interestingly, this exercise contrasts diametrically with Kubrick's 1963 'nightmare comedy' Dr Strangelove: or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, since Kubrick tried initially to write a 'straight' narrative thriller but ultimately adopted satire as the dramatic mode best suited and intrinsic to nuclear concepts such as Mutually Assured Destruction.
30 Quote is from Richie and Anderson, cf Lifton, op cit , p 487
31 Lifton, ibid , p 487
32 Alperovitz, op cit , p 60