Review: Hiroshima

75 years after the US dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki towards the end of World War Two, we review Arrow Academy's edition of Hideo Sekigawa's anti-war statement.

The Film:

Hideo Sekigawa’s 'Hiroshima' was made only eight years after the actual event and one year after the end of the American occupation of Japan, during which time anything critical of the occupying forces or mention of the bombings was suppressed.

Produced by the Japanese Teachers’ Union its educational aspect is readily apparent, one of the two narratives focus is on a contemporary school class where some of the students are survivors of the attack. Here the students and teacher both learn about the lingering effects of the attack as one of the students has leukemia. It is also here that the anti-American tone of the film comes through, as it is remarked that the Japanese were essentially used as guinea pigs to see the effects of an atomic bomb on humans, that the Americans are hypocrites for condemning the use of poison gas by their enemies yet still using the bombs to kill civilians, and that rather than treating the casualties they were instead observing the effects on them.

The contemporary story also looks outside of the medical effects of the attack to show the social impact on the survivors, children that became orphans and their struggle for survival, and touches on disaster tourism and Japan’s fast re-militarisation.

The second narrative is a dramatization of the immediate precursor to and aftermath of the attack. This part of the film does not pull its punches in any way.

Going in to this film I knew that it would be a difficult thing to watch, but even so, I was unprepared for the sheer brutality of its imagery to the point of having to stop the film a couple of times to compose myself. I cannot even imagine how it must have been for the survivors that took part in the making of the film to have to relive what was by accounts a completely realistic representation of events. There are scenes in this film that will never leave me, whether those scenes are ones of the destruction and suffering that was endured or the scenes of hope when plants begin to grow again.

The film was intended to educate about the horrors that were endured and the possibility of future horrors if these weapons were ever used again, for me it was completely successful.

The Transfer:

The only provenance for the transfer is that it was provided by Raintrail Pictures, so it is hard to know what restoration was undertaken. Visually there are some sections that appear quite damaged, but overall, the transfer is very good with a clear stable image. Audio is excellent although there is some noise during transitions. Subtitles are provided and are easy to read.

The Extras:

Hiroshima Nagasaki Download (73m): The largest extra is Shinpei Takeda’s documentary that follows the director as he interviews survivors of the bombings that are now living in the United States. The film shows how deeply the scars of the bombings remain even after over sixty years, but also shows how deeply these stories affect the filmmakers. It was interesting to see that the survivors suffered an ‘othering’ through their experiences. One of them saying that they were looked at with “awe, amusement, and curiosity” when it was discovered what they had gone through, striking similarity with the classroom scenes in Hiroshima where the survivors are seen as different to the other students.

Hiroshima, Cinema, and Japan’s Nuclear Imagination (35m): A fascinating video essay by Jasper Sharp that touches on the event, the American occupation, and the way that Japan explored the event through film.

Interview with Yumeji Tsukioka (6m): An archival interview with the actress Yumeji Tsukioka.

: The booklet features two essays, one on the film by Mick Broderick, and one on Hideo Sekigawa by Jasper Sharp. A filmography of Hideo Sekigawa is also included.

Round Up:

'Hiroshima' is not an easy watch by any means, but its proximity to, and treatment of the event, make it an important watch. Arrow’s disc provides a solid transfer along with fascinating extras and is an utterly essential release.

Written by Rob Diston