The film opened in Tokyo on August 6, 2011, and Nakazawa died of lung cancer a year later, on December 19, 2012.
Roger Pulvers' wonderful film review at the JT connects the nuclear radioactive dots between Hiroshima in 1945 and Fukushima in 2011:
When the bomb dropped in 1945, Nakazawa was a 6-year-old, first-year pupil at Kanzaki National Elementary School, which was a mere 1.2 km from ground zero. Luckily, on his way into school, he lingered by the wall adjacent to the front gate to speak with someone, and that wall saved his life...Motofumi Asai's in-depth interview, "Barefoot Gen, the Atomic Bomb and I: The Hiroshima Legacy Nakazawa Keiji"i, translated by Richard H. Minear at APJ: Japan Focus explores the anti-war beliefs of Nakazawa's father as well as those of the writer himself who counsels us to be resilient and persistent in the support of respect of life, human dignity, and an ethos of peace:
Nakazawa’s father, sister and brother...were all crushed by pillars and beams, and killed. His father had been a vocal opponent of Japan’s war of aggression, and he had spent more than a year in prison as a result. The family had been ostracized by the community. This is a bitter irony of all indiscriminate bombing, since it murders many who are not only blameless non-combatants but also proponents of peace.
Nakazawa never forgot what he saw. He turned his personal experience and that of the people of Hiroshima into a series of manga that was carried in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump for 12 years from 1973. The story of Barefoot Gen kept the plight of the victims of the bomb and its radiation in the minds of citizens of the nation that had become the most intimate ally of the country that caused that holocaust, the United States.
This fact led the Japanese government to isolate the issue as something local — to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the other city atom-bombed by the U.S. three days after Hiroshima — as opposed to national. In addition, the vigorous pursuit of “atoms for peace,” an American initiative to promote nuclear power spearheaded in the early 1950s by President Dwight Eisenhower further divorced the radiation spread by the bombs from its possible spread by reactors generating electricity all around Japan.
It is thanks to Nakazawa, and eminent authors such as Kenzaburo Oe, Hisashi Inoue and, most recently, Haruki Murakami — all of whom have taken up the nuclear tragedies of 1945 — that the dangers of radiation lingering in our bodies, our soil, our water, and in the air, are now finally being understood by the Japanese people.
However, a truly remarkable aspect of the story of Barefoot Gen...is its message of optimism and hope. The hero, little Gen, stunned by the devastation and death surrounding him, says, “I’m going to live, to live! I’m going to live through this, you’ll see!”
In those pages...the stench of destruction are everywhere, just as in the prefectures of Tohoku most badly affected by the earthquake and tsunami of March 11. Yet Gen does not give up hope...
He goes on to point out that the gen in the name is the same character as that in the word genki, which means full of vitality and strong of mettle...
In his message to children, Nakazawa states, “If you come to feel that you wish for a world without war and without atomic bombs, for a world where peace is priceless...then the subject of this film, namely Keiji Nakazawa, will be content.”
In order to effect change, each person has to work away at it. I’m a cartoonist, so cartoons are my only weapon. I think everyone has to appeal in whatever position they’re in.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we gradually enlarged our imaginations! We have to believe in that possibility. Doubt is extremely strong, but we have to feel that change is possible. Inspire ourselves. And like Auschwitz, Hiroshima too must sing out more and more about human dignity.