Barefoot Gen (1983) IMDb

Categorization

Anti-war tragedy, attempting to show the short-term personal effects of the atomic bomb. Childish goofing around, with idolized parents, uneasily combined with extreme horror. Autobiographical, based on a comic.

Subject

Lieutenant Colonel Paul Warfield Tibbets Junior from Quincy, Illinois, loved flying. His first ride in an airplane was at the age of twelve. Tibbets designed the modifications of some Boeing B-29 bombers that would allow them to carry single bombs at greater altitudes than Japanese anti-aircraft guns could reach. He named one such plane the Enola Gay after his mother. At 8:15 and 15 seconds local time, the morning of August 6, 1945, Tibbets dropped Little Boy from the Enola Gay. It fell to an altitude of 1,900 feet in less than a minute, according to plan. Below it was the city of Hiroshima, where no warning sounded because the army assumed that the three planes were merely observers, like their predecessors.

Tibbets did his job, like the stubborn soldiers of Japan. More importantly, what happens to people when the President of the United States decides that their city should be hit with the instantaneous equivalent of 15,000,000 kilograms of TNT in one radioactive package?

Commentary

“Gen” for “atomic bomb” (原爆, genbaku) and for “origin” (元, gen). Filled with naïve energy, this is an important anti-war film and a good feel-bad apocalypse movie.

More historical side notes: The emperor and Japanese high command, with the exception of some extremists, were willing to surrender in the spring of 1945. US forces knew this, having intercepted Japanese communications. The Japanese had tried to arrange meetings with Russian diplomats in order to apply for peace in a relatively “honourable” fashion, i.e. not directly with the enemy. On the 8th, two days after Hiroshima, the Russians entered the war against Japan, as the Americans knew they would.

Hiroshima was not a target of real military importance. The factories on the outskirts were not targeted and the city's army command unit was probably replaceable, despite rapid deterioration. There were no significant defences to prevent more accurate conventional bombing, which had been extremely effective against other cities. Hiroshima was saved for testing. The explosion was planned to coincide with a lot of people being on their way to work and school, and the US dropped two of the things: the second on Nagasaki on the 9th.

Japan's Longest Day (1967) illustrates why the Japanese allowed all of this to occur. The emperor had become a figurehead. He later said he was afraid the bombs would wipe out his people, but the precise importance of this fear is tantalizingly unclear. Surrender was not unconditional. It came when the Americans had clarified that they would not hurt the emperor. It is a stinging irony that hurting the emperor would have been contrary to American interests. His survival and entrance into a more public sphere as a gentle old gardener helped legitimize the US occupation in the same way his supposed divinity and isolation had been used to legitimize the military regime.

The atomic bombs were not militarily crucial, and not meant primarily to scare the Japanese leadership, which had already lost hope. They were useful tests, an office-political liability resulting from a major sunk cost into R&D, and finally warnings to the Soviets and to the rest of the world not to interfere with the risen US.

The story of pseudo-biographical Gen, like the story of Tetsutani Shinichi and his spurious tricycle, open up the significance of these historical events on an emotional level.

References here: Kawajiri Yoshiaki tag description, “Don't mention the war!”, Threads (1984).

Japanese production animation movie

Sequel:

Barefoot Gen 2 (1986) IMDb

Categorization

More realistic, less naïvely stylized, with older children and less central parenting. No atomic blast and hence no expressionistic horror, except insofar as some footage from the first film is repeated as an introduction.

Subject

Three years after the attack, the people of Hiroshima are referring to the event as pikadon (or simply pika, meaning “flash”) (doon is “boom”). Gen and Ryuuta still live as brothers. The family's survivors no longer huddle in a ramshackle shed, but life is still hard. The brothers collect scrap and climb the abandoned building which will later be known as the atomic bomb dome, looking for nests with eggs to eat. Ryuuta swallows his pride and runs after an American jeep shouting “Hungry! Hungry!”, receiving bars of chocolate thrown by a smiling American soldier. Gen's mother is perilously light, and may die. Gen is strong enough to carry her, and meets a gang of orphans who are providing for themselves by helping the mob.

Commentary

I visited the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in 1997, less than a year before they closed the final version of an exhibition showing some of the restored fuselage of the Enola Gay. The silvery trophy of antipathy had a small plaque reporting “the facts”. I visited the atomic bomb museum in Hiroshima in 2004, which was very different. Hiroshima is now a normal Japanese big city. Some bright minds in the rubble saw the opportunity to widen the streets in anticipation of rapid population growth, straight in the face of the bomb.

Japanese production animation movie