Sunday, August 25, 2013

Barefoot Gen anime film online in Japan through Aug. 31; debate continues over ban of anti-war manga series in Matsue

The energetic public debate over the decision by Matsue (Shimane Prefecture) Board of Education to ban the manga series "Barefoot Gen reflects the vibrancy of anti-war attitudes in Japan, a widespread desire of the majority of Japanese citizens to admit and atone for Japanese Imperial wartime atrocities, and to witness for the abolition of uranium and nuclear weapons.

The series depicts realistic images of the entire Pacific War, including Japanese Imperial beheadings and rapes of Chinese people, as well as the US nuclear bombings of Japanese civilians and other wartime suffering.

The controversy has generated an outpouring of support and renewed interest in "Barefoot Gen" whose author passed away in December of last year. Our friends at New York Peace Film Festival report that the anime film adaptation of the manga series, Barefoot Gen,  is available to watch online in Japan until Aug. 31.


Synopsis: Barefoot Gen a 1983 war drama based on Keiji Nakazawa's manga series. Director Mori Masaki depicts the final days of the Pacific War and the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima from the point of view of a child, Gen Nakaoka, who is caught in the explosion's aftermath.  The film begins and ends with boat symbolism reminiscent of Toro Nagasahi (ceremony during which lit paper lanterns are released on a river to remember the dead).

The story is set during the final days of the Second World War.  Gen's malnourished family struggle survive in Hiroshima. The family wonders why their city has been spared from US napalm (jellied gasoline) firebombings that have destroyed most of Japan's other cities. They sense something is wrong even though they could never imagine that  Hiroshima  had been chosen as a "pristine" target to test one of the two new American nuclear bombs.

On the morning of August 6, Gen, after promising his brother he will take him to the river to play with a toy boat, makes his way to school. Overhead, he notices a single B-29 bomber.  At home, his family watch as a large number of ants ominously enter their home.  Gen drops a pebble he is playing with, and, as he bends to pick it up, a flash of white light erupts in the sky. The eyes of people around him begin to melt. At home, Gen's house collapses, burying his family alive. Gen escaped injury from the flash because he was bent downward in front of a  stone wall, but he is also buried under rubble.

The nuclear blast vaporizes people and destroys most of the buildings throughout Hiroshima. Burned and mutilated people wander through streets looking for water and help. After digging out of the rubble, Gen returns home to find his mother has survived, but his father, sister and little brother are trapped under the ruins of their house. As a firestorm approaches, Gen's father tells Gen they must leave to protect his mother and her unborn child. As they obey Gen's father and leave, they hear their family's screams as they burn to death.

His mother gives birth to a baby girl they name Tomoko; Gen searches for food and help but finds neither in a city filled only with the dead and injured. He finds a mother with a dead baby who shares her breast milk with Gen's infant sister.  People start to show signs of radiation illness: defecating and vomiting blood; losing hair.

After days of searching for food, Gen finds some rice and vegetables in a storehouse.  On August 16, they dig up the skulls of their dead family at their burned home. They're told Tokyo has finally surrendered.  But peace has come too late for them (and many millions of other people throughout the Asia-Pacific, as well as Okinawa and the rest of mainland Japan).  They take in an orphaned child, Ryuta, whom they meet when he tries to steal their food.

To earn money to buy milk for Tomoko, Gen and Ryuta take a job, caring for a dying, embittered man who, in the end, expresses gratitude for their care.  But, of course, Gen's infant sister dies anyway: the odds are stacked against survival in Hiroshima.

As grass and plants start to recover, so does Gen; his hair grows back.  Gen recalls his father's advice: no matter how beaten down, never give up. He decides to fulfill his promise to his brother and builds another boat. Two weeks after the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, Gen, his mother, and Ryuta go to the river, where they light a candle on top of the boat and release it in the water. They pray as the boat sails away.


"‘Barefoot Gen’ pulled as anti-war images strike too close to home?" (Jun Hongo, JT, Aug. 21, 2013)

"Board’s request to restrict ‘Barefoot Gen’ assailed" (Aug. 22, 2013, Kyodo, JT)


Johntaro said...

Thanks for spreading the word about the online anime. Like many others, the ban has piqued my interest in Barefoot Gen (unintended consequences aren't always bad).

TenThousandThings said...

Thanks v. much for your comment; we received a comment that expressed negativity towards "Japan" which completely missed the bigger point that Japanese people have rallied to support the messages of "Barefoot Gen". So I rearranged the post contents to lead with the Japanese support for the series and film.

Had forgotten that I watched the film myself a couple of years ago (with my niece, when she was 10. We also watched "Grave of the Fireflies" about the firebombing of Japan) to balance her US history texts which omit much of this history.