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Children Of Hiroshima

Children Of Hiroshima

By Arpad Lukacs • February 3rd, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 4/5
Kindai Eiga Kyokai

Original release: August 6th, 1952
Running time: 97 minutes

Country of origin Japan
Original language: Japanese

Writer and director: Kaneto Shindo

Cast: Nobuko Otowa, Osamu Takizawa

Children Of Hiroshima

It’s quite difficult to write about a film when I have such mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, Kaneto Shindo’s Children Of Hiroshima is an invaluable film experience with an element of immediacy that compares only to a few films in the history of cinema. While this immediacy has its value by default and is an inevitable driving force behind the narrative, I found intermittent clues indicating that Shindo wasn’t quite ready to make this film.

The value of watching a movie that takes place (and was shot) in Hiroshima only four years after the city was devastated by the nuclear attack on the August 6th, 1945 speaks for itself. We can accompany Takako (Nobuko Otowa), a young teacher who returns to her home town during the summer holidays to visit the graves of her family for the first time since the disaster. With her, we see the still-deep scars and desperation, as well as a glimmer of hope on the horizon. We’ve seen such unconditional realism in Michael Winterbottom’s Welcome To Sarajevo (1997) that was also shot on location in the aftermath of the Bosnian War, another man-made tragedy that the world still hasn’t really come to terms with and which is palpable in the film in its raw brutality. Sion Sono’s more recent film Himizu (2011) was shot in the immediate aftermath of the T?hoku earthquake and tsunami and features much of the devastation left behind. This is an area where fiction meets documentary and the result can be a truly profound experience.

How a filmmaker deals with a real-life event in its wake is a whole different matter. Children Of Hiroshima has a plot that frames the film only in its beginning and at the end; what takes place in between has very little or nothing to do with Takako’s efforts to adopt the grandson of an elderly man (Osamu Takizawa) who used to work for her parents before the attack. While visiting her home town, the young teacher goes from place to place, often conveniently arriving just the right time to witness the climax of a personal tragedy that was caused by the atomic bomb. Although the film was commissioned by the Japan Teachers Union and was based on a compilation of testimonies by real victims of the attack, what’s unfolding before Takako’s eyes quickly becomes a mere listing of these stories with an obvious ulterior motive and a contrived feel.

Children Of Hiroshima

I began to resent myself when realising I resented the film, as surely, the palpable anger underlining its scenes is justified. Nevertheless, I strongly feel that Shindo would have better served his cause by focusing more on the plot and let the reality of Hiroshima speak for itself. This unique realism in Children Of Hiroshima is so profound that the directorial efforts to emphasise it end up in what I can only call thinly veiled finger-pointing that ultimately diminishes the film’s message.

Winterbottom’s Welcome To Sarajevo seems like a suitable counter example that’s dramatized to a similar degree but isn’t so emotionally biased. While featuring – amongst other things – the first of the infamous Markale massacres in its horrifying brutality, using actual news footage, the film’s narrative isn’t constructed to tell us that this is a bad thing. The characters mind their own business and the story is unfolding on its own accord while we get a sense of the horror of the Bosnian War because it’s right in front of us. Children Of Hiroshima lacks this necessary daylight between film maker and story and auteurship is replaced by anger and frustration.

The actual plot in Shindo’s film is very touching nevertheless and the piece also offers a remarkable surrealist sequence depicting the day of the bombing. Takako trying to persuade a weak elderly man to allow her to take his grandson with her to live on the island that became her home after she lost everything in Hiroshima is a great story I wanted to see more of. But much of the film feels like a history lesson with statistical data slipped into the dialogue that’s also often overtly sentimental. Children Of Hiroshima is a remarkable film, but it often drifts toward trying to influence the our emotions too directly, which perhaps gives the film a mild flavour of propaganda.

Children Of Hiroshima

Arpad Lukacs

Arpad Lukacs

Arpad is a Film Studies graduate and passionate photographer (he picked up the camera and started taking stills just as he began his studies of moving pictures). He admires directors that can tell a story first of all in images. More or less inevitably, Brian De Palma has become Aprad’s favourite filmmaker.

Then there’s Arpad’s interest in anime. He was just a boy when he saw Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind on an old VHS and was hypnotised by the story of friendship, devotion and sacrifice. He still marvels at the uncompromising and courageous storytelling in Japanese anime, and wonders about the western audience with its ever growing appetite for “Japanemation”.

Have a look at Arpad's photography site, and you can follow him on Twitter @arpadlukacs.

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