Hiroshima (1953) – Blu-Ray Review

This was the first Japanese film to deal with the bombing of Hiroshima—all Japanese art since then has been created in the shadow of that event, which people in the West hardly ever think about. It’s a dramatic film that is probably more valuable as a historical document than as a piece of filmmaking, although there are some great bits in it. It was based on a 1951 book, Children Of The A Bomb: Testament Of The Boys And Girls Of Hiroshima.

The story is told within a weird structure. It starts with the day and the time the bomb was dropped, then moves to the aftermath of people trying to get back to some kind of life. A half an hour or so in, you get a flashback where you see everything that happened, and as you might imagine, it’s horrific.

It does have some good cinematography from Takeo Itō, with some quite striking shots. The flashback structure doesn’t really work as well as it should, but the middle section is pretty remarkable. It feels a bit like an anthology movie with all the different sequences. The bombing sequence is really the reason to see it, but the rest is also fine. If you’ve seen a documentary about Hiroshima, you will know the facts, but it was very valuable for people in early 1950s Japan to see it, and it’s interesting to see what they made of the events at the time. There is a sequence about a brother and sister left on their own that is like a short version of the anime Grave of the Fireflies, which was based on a short story—I wonder if there was a connection.

The film was commissioned by the Japanese teacher’s union once the US stopped directly running the country (although it continued to interfere in Japanese media for years), so there is a lot of stuff about teachers in it. It’s set in and around a school, and part of its purpose was to teach people not to discriminate against survivors. It’s a well-made film with a more nuanced and critical take than American movies of that period.

Hollywood had already rushed out a movie about the bombing, called The Beginning or the End, which included Ayn Rand as a screenwriter. The title was suggested by Pres. Truman, and Major General Leslie R. Groves, Jr., the director of the Manhattan Project was paid $10,000 (over $1300,000 in today’s money) to act as a consultant. It includes scenes of Truman debating whether to do it—which apparently was far from the case, he claims he never had any moral concerns about the decision—and complete fabrications like claiming that there had been a warning leaflet dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki before the bombs hit. Hiroshima is a more interesting and accurate movie: a bit too scatter-shot for my liking at times, but important.

This disc from Arrow is a new high-definition restoration. It includes an archive interview with actress Yumeiji Tsukjoka, a 73-minute documentary from 2011 that features interviews with survivors and is introduced by director Shinpei Takeda, and a new video essay by Jasper Sharp.

★★★½

Ian Schultz

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