Barefoot Gen
Hashi no gen
Genre: Historical drama
85 min.
Rated: R
Found at: Yahoo auction
Grade = A

Barefoot Gen is the autobiographical story of manga artist Keiji Nakazawa of one family’s struggle to survive the bombing of Hiroshima.

The story opens with a rundown of the American bombing campaign against Japan in 1945, listing the cities and the date that they were destroyed. Six-year old Gen, his little brother and his father are gazing at a field of wheat outside of Hiroshima. Father begins to comment on how the wheat prospered after being planted in the winter (a clear allegory to post-war Japan). Gen and his brother are more concerned with finding something to eat as they are out of ration tickets and are constantly hungry. They return to the family home were Gen’s very pregnant mother and big sister are waiting. They are war-weary, poor and hungry but still a happy family. The film then spends the first 32 minutes exploring Gen’s world and leading to August 6, 1945.

As Gen makes his way to school an hour after an early morning air raid warning, he and a girl spy a glint in the sky. As it is alone, Gen surmises that it is just another American reconnaissance mission. Tossing a rock in his hand, Gen misses a catch and the stone falls to the earth. He bends down to pick it up when Little Boy (the atomic fission bomb) detonates. Luckily, he is shielded by a low stone wall. The film then shifts into overdrive, showing in graphic detail men, women, children and dogs being instantly incinerated in gruesome detail as their eyeballs fall out and melt before them as their bodies are burned in the bomb’s heat blast. Gen looks up to see that the girl he had been talking to has had half her body burned away. Then the shock wave hits shattering everything and throwing Gen across the street. Finding the girl crushed beneath the rubble he runs home to find his family. On the journey he is met with a horrifying panorama of bomb victims wandering sightless through the rubble as their skin falls off in sheets.

Arriving to find that his house has collapsed trapping his father, brother and sister in the burning wreckage. Gen is ordered by his father to pull his mother away and to take care of her. They watch as the rest of the family is burned alive. As he drags his mother to safety, she goes into labor and unable to find any help, Gen is forced to deliver his new sister. The remainder of the film depicts Gen’s family’s survival in the days after the bombing.

As a film directed by Mamoru Shinzaki, Barefoot Gen is ultimately to be compared to Grave of the Fireflies. Both are stories of survival of children in Japan during the end of the Second World War. However, each differs in their treatment of the subject matter. Barefoot Gen deals with a specific event and in a far more graphic manner. Sometimes extremely so. The quality of animation is far below that of Grave, as is the performances of the dubbing actors. Nevertheless, this is still a very powerful film detailing the suffering of not just the victims of Hiroshima, but that of the war weary population of Japan as well.

The director goes into detail regarding the accuracy of depiction of the bombing. Not only showing the exact target of the bombardier of the Enola Gay (the T-shaped bridge in the center of the city) but also showing the timing of the initial morning reconnaissance mission; the effects of radiation sickness; how fleeing into the river drowned many; but also significantly showing the burn victims holding their arms out in front of them producing an eerie zombie-like effect to their shambling walking. Although not told in the story, this was to prevent the arms coming in contact with the burns on their bodies. The director also manages to balance the youthful exuberance of Gen and his brother against the horror as the film progresses. That is an cinematic achievement in and of itself.

Although the film does not tend to point fingers definitely at one side or the other as the ultimate cause of the bombing, it does blame both the Japanese militarists for failing to surrender long after the war was lost, and the US for its bombing campaign in 1945. In fact at the beginning the film states that this campaign is the largest ever waged against civilians. This is clearly wrong historically. As a student of military history, and specifically World War Two, it is clear that the bombing campaigns against Germany and Japan were not specifically directed at civilians. They were directed against the enemy’s ability to produce war related material to supply the front - war against both industrial and agricultural production and distribution. Since the age of pin-point bombing would not be perfected until after the Vietnam War, the allies resorted to mass bombing of industrial centers by large bombing groups to accomplish this objective. Unlike bombing campaigns carried out by Germany, the Soviet Union and Japan (especially in China), American objectives were not the civilians themselves, but the factories, bridges, rail marshalling yards and lines, electrical production and distribution, and so forth. Unfortunately, the civilians were in the way, not a target.

Due to the fact that the Japanese did not build their manufacturing plants in districts as Americans and Europeans did, rather typically building them in the middle of civilian neighborhoods supplying the labor personnel, this confounded the ability of the American air forces to destroy them effectively. Additionally, the makeup of the buildings in the cities also affected the tactics used. German cities were made of stone and brick and defended by massive anti-aircraft batteries (manned by more than 1 million troops) and sometimes very effective fighter interceptors, requiring high-level bombing raids using large high-explosive bombs. Japanese cities were made up of wood and paper and lightly defended. This resulted in the tactic of mid-level bombing raids using clusters of small incendiary devices rather than high-explosives. The materials of the Japanese cities easily created intense firestorms on many raids, destroying great areas of the cities and killing tens of thousands. This was accomplished only twice in Germany (Hanover, Dresden) during the entire European air campaign. Although the bombing of Hiroshima was bad, this film like others related to the dropping of the atomic bomb fails to inform that several of the conventional bombing raids against major Japanese cities killed far more than died at Hiroshima or Nagasaki, and left the cities just as devastated. The May, 1945 bombing of Tokyo killed over 150,000 and left the city a smoking ruin. Such devestation in war must be taken in historical perspective as to the cause, result and long-term implications of the actions. Clearly, the alternative to a full-scale invasion of the Japanese home islands would have resulted in millions of more deaths of not only the Japanese, but American servicemen as well. The total death toll has been estimated between 5 to 15 million additional deaths.

Barefoot Gen Manga Review with scans

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