Kaneto Shindô’s Gembaku no ko opens with a prologue that catalogs immediate outcomes of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (During its military occupation of Japan, the U.S. suppressed all images of its assault on civilians, including women, infants, children, the elderly.) The balance of the action unfolds seven years later. Based on Arata Osada’s book compiling children’s memories of the event in poems and stories, Shindô’s film shifts to reality-based fiction. Takako, a schoolteacher, returns to Hiroshima, having lost her parents and sister in the holocaust. As she wanders about, Takako encounters a series of disrupted and blighted lives: instances of humanity, many of them familiar to her, testifying to radiation’s immediate and residual horrors. Shindô himself was born in Hiroshima.
Proceeding with patience, a fine lyricism and distinct humanity, Shindô creates a portrait whose culmination is Takako’s adoption of an orphaned child. Hers is a psychological journey that splits into two complementary tracks, experience and stream-of-consciousness, the latter of which we hear as voiceover as Takako ferries from the island where she lives, protected from the past, to Hiroshima, a graveyard populated by skeletal buildings and the living dead. Her return to the island with her adopted son will represent a renewal and a reintegration of her life. She will be taking her past and her future back home with her.
Among those Takako meets in Hiroshima are ones who are blinded, disfigured, rendered sterile, dying (a child, no less). People in Hiroshima cope by joking about what occurred; but the sound of an airplane flying overhead renews their terror.
We now know that Emperor Hirohito, discounting America’s doomsday device, was prepared to continue fighting. That doesn’t erase a spot from America’s blood-drenched hands. The ends do not justify the means.
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