White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

White Light/Black Rain (2007) movie poster

(2007) dir. Steven Okazaki
viewed: 09/22/07

An earnest documentary about “The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki”, White Light/Black Rain is a poignant and well-made reminder of the horrors of the atomic bombs and their aftermath in Japan, though mostly focused on the survivors.

It’s a terrible tale.  The power of the bomb was so vast, its effects so beyond brutal, inhuman really, were unknown to both Americans and Japanese before the event.  Their aftermath, the radiation, the continued illness, death, miscarriages, child deformities, social outcasting also something that only time could unfold.  The stories, direct from the mouths and images from the bodies of survivors 60 years on, are chilling, sad, depressing and frightening.

But what has the world really learned?  Director Steven Okazaki, whose name was familiar to me from the 1987 film Living on Tokyo Time, demonstrates through interviews with young people on the streets of contemporary Hiroshima, the shocking fact that they do not know why those dates should live in infamy, in those towns if anywhere in this world.  Maybe this is perhaps the most frightening fact of all, just over the cusp of a new millenium, how quickly WWII and its significance has faded from the sensibility.  Okazaki quotes a fact that 75% of Japanese alive today were born after these events.  Is that stat the same here?

Actually, I think that the powers that be in the US are still obsessed with this huge, global event.  Television, books, and film continue to focus on the war, though perhaps not so much on the bombs, the crescendo of the war, but on other aspects, from military technology to feats of strategy, and of course, the Holocaust.  Interestingly, this weekend sees the launch of director Ken Burns’ latest film, The War (2007) on PBS, broken into 7 segments and I am not sure how many hours.

This film is a good reminder of things that should not be forgotten, not just by us, but by future generations, a tragic tale that is hopefully somehow cautionary.  Hopefully.

Still, this film doesn’t stretch the depth of the subject matter.  There is much more to be gleaned and realized from these bombings, the suffering, from the worlds of before and after that these events led to.  That is not this film, which earns its rights in its specificity, paying homage to the children (because these survivors were largely children) who lived through one of the most brutal man-made tragedies of technology and war.

I hope that I’m not sounding too preponderous here.  But it’s hard not to react to this material with tepid emotion.

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