Hiroshima - Hiroshima(Blu Ray) [Arrow Academy - 2020]Seventy-five years ago this month, on the 6th of August 1945, one bomb wiped about 80,000 people off the face of the Earth in a flash, with a similar figure suffering injury and altered lives. A US Airforce plane, Enola Gay, dropped its payload over the city of Hiroshima, and changed the world we live in forever. Depicting such a monumental abyss of death and destruction is not a simple venture and it strikes me, from my Western perspective, that Hiroshima is the first film I’ve seen that tackles the subject. Given this, it is perhaps surprising that Hiroshima was released in 1953 - a mere eight years after the events it depicts - and is now 67 years old. This new blu-ray edition is a complete restored version of the 104 minute black and white film, and arrives complimented with extras including a 73 minute documentary featuring interviews with survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings, critical writings, and a video essay.
The skeleton narrative of Hiroshima is perhaps predictable but that is the simple power of the film; there is a sense of unadorned, unflinching rawness, aided by a documentary feel in places: you are Alex in A Clockwork Orange, forced to watch the screen with no diversions from the misery. Nor is there any comforting sense of a strict linear plot focus - though there is a recurring family throughout - the overall effect is of a wide angle lens on events, with a mass of vignettes. In very broad terms, the film begins in a modern day (1953) classroom, with children being taught about the Hiroshima attack; we learn that several of the children are suffering from conditions sustained or resulting from the radioactive bomb. The film then flashes back to the explosion itself, before returning to Japan in the present with the victims trying to fashion ‘ordinary’ lives whilst carrying their wounds and scars. Hiroshima closes with ghosts of the past converging with contemporary peace processions, protesting the horrors of nuclear warfare.
The meat - and I use that word deliberately - of Hiroshima is indeed the sequence portraying the bomb attack. Its arrival in the film announces a severe change of tone; brutal and harrowing, the entire passage is viscerally apocalyptic. Bodies lay trapped in ruined buildings under roofs that now litter the floor, bodies stagger like zombies through streets reduced to rubble, bodies gather in caves seeking shelter, bodies frenziedly search for other bodies. It is a film of bodies. There is a sense in these scenes that even the survivors are reduced to existence as mere bodies, mechanical meat; a sense that even the living are dead, not alive: in the words of one character, ‘This is hell. Hell!’ This atmosphere of a world fundamentally changed is enhanced by long sections without dialogue or ‘set-piece’ action, almost as if these parts of the film were a series of tableaux. Indeed, the scenes following the bombing remind me of the works of Pieter Bruegel (the Elder), or the aktionen of Hermann Nitsch (a trite comparison, admittedly); a spectacle of massed human activity, detached from the viewer. These massed humans were portrayed by an estimated 90,000 extras, made up of residents of Hiroshima. Whilst the bombing is portrayed as a collective hell, there is a powerful section where a teacher, trapped under the ruins of their collapsed school, calls out to their pupils asking them to respond with their names, starkly confronting the viewer with the individual suffering of the attack, and the thousands of deaths consumed in the one word: Hiroshima.
This is a staggering film, and one you should watch. It reminds me, in terms of power and vision, of Die Brücke, a 1959 German film that brutally depicts the barren annihilation of war - again, utterly recommended. If this review has concentrated on the mid-section of the film, the bombing and its immediate aftermath, that is because this long passage is so breath-taking in its force and relentless abject misery that the rest of Hiroshima must inevitably accept a backseat. The severe potency of Hideo Sekigawa’s film has meant a long period of hiding in the shadows in Japan, so hopefully this new Arrow edition will raise its profile again. Hiroshima’s vehement anti-militarism message - perhaps most strikingly depicted in a scene where a soldier exhorts broken shuffling survivors to fight for Japan - remains strong and hard to watch 67 years later.Martin P