Hiroshima arrived in Japanese theaters 8 years after the bombing. While quite avant-garde for its time, the movie now serves as a testament to a survivor’s ability to make sense of immense tragedy. I’m not one for historical revisionism, so this approach appealed to me. No one soapboxes and the director doesn’t try to force overt emotion. However, Hiroshima will humble you.
Director Hideo Sekigawa died in 1977 and didn’t get to ride that wave of Japanese cinema appreciation during the Video Age. A few American filmmakers such as Oliver Stone talked up his movies, but they didn’t connect with a wider Western audience for ages. Sekigawa was a contemporary of Kurosawa that thrived at TOHO after the war.
But, while Kurosawa made more mainstream fare in the 1950s, Sekigawa’s politics got the better of him. The director was a Communist leaning filmmaker who believed in putting the people first. Much like in Hollywood, Japan began purging Communists from film work and started aggressively going after their job opportunities. This lead to Japan’s first Indie movie boom.
The story of how Sekigawa arrived at Hiroshima is fascinating, but rather simple. While out of work, Sekigawa was approached by the Japanese Teachers’ Union (JTU) to make a film about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. In the 1950s, Japanese teachers were trying to undo the Imperial dogmatism they spread in schools for a decade. Plus, the Occupation Government wanted it to happen.
Adapted from Children of the Atomic Bomb, Hiroshima was the first feature film to film the accounts of Hiroshima advisors. The scenes were shot on recreated sets. But, they were so effective that they were recycled into Hiroshima Mon Amour. What that later film doesn’t get is Sekigawa puts a weight on the lives lost in Hiroshima that day. He doesn’t curse the Heavens or try to force a narrative. The director wants you to look at every single life lost that day and suffer alongside them.
In Western Cinema, we’re conditioned to approach the worst in history by how involved we can become with it. After all, it’s not a tragedy until an American can put a face to it. Leaning on the best of Communist propaganda of the time, Sekigawa never takes the camera off the common people of the town. They worked, they went to school and ultimately led lives that had nothing to do with the greater world.
Yet, they died just the same as pawns of indifferent world powers trying to conquer the planet. While this was Segikawa’s second attempt at making a feature about Hiroshima, it was the one that best expressed his feelings to the world. Moving directors like Alain Resnais to spread the story even further, it’s a shame to see Segikawa never quite connect to a wider audience in the same way again.
The Blu-ray comes with a feature length documentary and archival interview as the special features. Arrow Films and Arrow Academy always do right by these deep cut films. The only catch I have to say is the source for the transfer is a well played archival print. You’ll catch signs of print damage from time to time, but it only lends to the authenticity of the source.