September 24, 2020

75 years of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, missing images from global cinema

The movie Wolverine immortal it premiered in thousands of movie theaters around the world seven years ago. Beyond the contradictions inherent in fitting a most violent hero into the corsets of the superhero narrative for all audiences, James Mangold’s film incorporated an unexpected sequence. Its protagonist was a first-person witness to the explosion of an atomic bomb in Nagasaki.

The situation did not go much beyond the historical vignette that propelled a narration of protections, redemptions and attachment to life. The scene did not have a great contact with reality nor did the digital flames measure the infinite human suffering derived from the explosion. The nuclear attack was even elaborated in the key of positive thinking: Japanese resilience showed that “the human being can recover from anything”. Still, the mere presence of the sequence could prompt some questions to be raised. How many times have we seen images of the destruction of Hiroshima or Nagasaki in broadcast audiovisuals?

We can find some examples of commercial fictions that have dealt with this reality. The telefilm Hiroshima: beyond the ashes, released in 1990, included some very disturbing images covered with a certain supposedly healing complacency. But commercial cinema seems to have exercised oblivion. An oversight that is convenient to preserve the notion of a United States that used its force in a proportionate and fair way before the most controversial conflicts in Vietnam or Iraq. The self-portrait of the United States as a liberating power, and the image of the allied side in World War II, could be obscured if the memory of the hundreds of thousands of civilian victims derived from the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the arson bombing of Dresden, Hamburg or Tokyo.

The hypothetical threat that is true history

There was a time when the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were too close to try to erase them, even if you had to help channel their memory. The movie Beginning or end? with the consequent creative liberties and preservations of official secrets, he spread the preparations for atomic weapons just a year and a half after the bombings. In the final part of the docudrama, the crew attacking Hiroshima were dejected by the brutal destruction of the city, although the view from the skies detracted from the horror: characters and spectators could see the mushroom and the fire, but not the bodies that they suffered and died. The sadness was reserved for the previously fallen comrade, who left a long letter of propaganda-tear persuasion on the benefits of the atomic age.

Hollywood’s infinitely and callously self-centered view would become even more apparent a few years later. The movie The big secret, released in 1952 and in the midst of a McCarthy witch hunt, was a biopic about the military man who piloted the Enola Gay bomber for the destruction of Hiroshima. The dramatic core of the story was not the death of thousands of Japanese citizens and the illnesses of many others, or the conscience problems of the American military, but the marital problems suffered by the protagonist due to overwork.

Little by little, Hollywood began to forget. In the middle of the Cold War, atomic explosions over inhabited areas were possible future threats that rarely prompted us to remember that something similar had already taken place in reality. In Limit point, the president, played by Henry Fonda, was trying to avoid a conflagration that could explode due to a computer error. Red phone ?, we fly to Moscow He satirized military unreason through an attack ordered by an overly passionate general. And the more or less agonistic stories about survivors of nuclear detonations reached series A (The final hour) and especially the B series (Five, The world, the flesh and the devil, The last woman on Earth, Infinite panic, this is not a simulacrum…).

Unlike what happened in Japanese cinema, the true horror unleashed by atomic weapons was barely glimpsed in these works. French filmmaker Alain Resnais did make an impact on world audiovisual flows through the Franco-Japanese co-production Hiroshima, mon amour, whose first minutes included real images of the tragedy … mixed with extracts from the fiction feature film Hiroshimaby Hideo Sekigawa. The controversy surrounding the fake British documentary The war game It showed that there was the political will, also in the UK, to hide the terrible effects of a nuclear detonation. This vibrant and forceful piece by Peter Watkins was broadcast by the BBC almost twenty years late.

Meanwhile, various generations of viewers learned to fear the bomb especially through fiction with strong fantastic elements. Although the reasonably plausible telefilm The day after shake many consciences (among them, that of the then President Ronald Reagan), perhaps the explosions of the vibrant remain more integrated in the cinephile memory anime akira, the igneous nightmare of human extinction of Terminator 2… Or the much lighter staging of a nuclear test in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Once the Cold War is behind us, even with small rebounds during the terrorism boom of the early 21st century, American cinema seems to have once again lost respect for the atomic threat.

At the periphery of global (hoisted) history

75 years after the real horrors, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki explosions seem absent from global screens. And that persistent absence suggests to us, once again, that the history and culture that the audiovisual of the globalized world explains to us is not the history and culture of the entire planet, but rather a partial accompaniment, traveled by strong biases, of a process infinitely unequal economic and political. Not even two crucial moments in the history of Japan, a great power in the financial sphere and in its capacity to export pop culture, seem to deserve a presence in this story.

Hiroshima’s barely mentioned ghost also reminds us once again that Hollywood has told us of an alternate World War II, distorted by self-centered and uncritical inertias. The Soviet Union plays a very minor role in the fight against the III Reich. And the war crimes of the United States are almost invisible, unlike the genocidal atrocities committed by the Hitler death industry. While Hiroshima barely exists, Nazism as pop villainy by default is tirelessly remembered in fictions with some historical rigor and is also used picturesquely within geek culture (from horror low cost Nazi zombies to the production of a large studio and a similar theme Overlord).

Even the existence of works like Hiroshima: beyond the ashes can be read in internal code. After all, a whole cycle of anti-nuclear warning fictions such as The day after, 70 minutes to die and many other films conceived in the eighties of jovial Goonies but also of panic to the atomic holocaust. At the height of interest in a Japan that was becoming a potentially fearsome economic giant, the memory of Hiroshima barely spattered a dialogue of the thriller Black rain: Yes, the reference made its way to the very title of the work, which alluded to the black rain after the detonations.

In the absence of new audiovisual pieces that recall their stories beyond specific commemorations, Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been mainly explained by Japanese filmmakers. Several illustrious filmmakers have dealt with atomic explosions or their human consequences, not only in the metaphorical forms of Godzilla and a thousand and one pop stories. In addition to the aforementioned Sekigawa, they have been done by Kaneto Shindo (Sons of Hiroshima), Keisuke Kinoshita (Children of Nagasaki) or, more recently, Yoji Yamada in Nagasaki: memories of my son, which came to be released on Spanish screens. A veteran Akira Kurosawa also dealt with the consequent historical scars by Rhapsody in August. This work projected a very uncritical vision of the terrible behavior of the Japanese empire during the war. Because not only Hollywood exercises convenient forgetfulness.


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