Monday, April 25, 2011

Children of the Bomb

Children of Hiroshima (1952) - Shindo

[Never before seen in the US, Kaneto Shindo's Children of Hiroshima, a searing anti-nuclear war film gets a theatrical release in a new 35mm print for a week (April 22nd through 28th), as a part of the traveling retrospective- The Urge for Survival: Kaneto Shindo, at the Brooklyn Academy of the Music (BAM). The retrospective will continue with Shindo's 11 other films until May 5th.]

Takako (Nobuko Otowa, director Shindo's muse and wife, seen in Naked Island, Kuroneko, Onibaba) is an elementry school teacher on a small island. She decides to visit her home town, Hiroshima, during the Summer school recess to pay respect for her family who perished when the atom bomb fell four years ago. She is also looking for surviving children from a kindergarten where she used to teach. She soon finds that many of her friends and colleagues are maimed, blinded and made infertile by the bomb.

Subtly didactic in his approach, Shindo never succumbs to cheap melodrama or bombastic sensationalism. Shindo's treatment of the fateful day, August 6, 1945 in flashback, is swift but effective- brief shots of ordinary people going on about their lives while the wall clock winds down to 8:15 a.m. Then static shots of the aftermath: bodies, burning sunflowers, burning bird cages frozen in time, culminate to a stock footage of mushroom cloud shot from Enola Gay. Even with Takako's sunny disposition and the stoic resignation of its citizenry, you can still feel the palpable collective scar left on the Japanese psyche by the bomb. "The thinking man on a stoop evaporated in an instant, but his thoughts still live on."

Shindo finds hope in innate goodness in people, in elders' sacrifices for the future generation and in shots of carefree kids swimming in the city's river. At the same time, he quietly indicts the evils of war and the use of nuclear weapon with shots (which bookend the film) of the school fields full of kids looking up at the sky while the sirens go off.

Forgotten for almost 60 years, the timing of the Children of Hiroshima's release can't be any more befitting than now, with Japan being on the verge of nuclear meltdown. The retrospective's proceeds will go to help Japan disaster relief effort.