Children of the Hiroshima opens to a shot of healthy children performing calisthenics in the schoolyard of an idyllic fishing village before being dismissed by their schoolteacher, Takako (Nobuko Otowa) for summer recess. Since the loss of her parents and sister four years earlier in the bombing of Hiroshima, Takako has remained on the island with her gentle and well-intentioned aunt, resigned in the belief that the memory of the fateful event is best left relegated to the past. With time on her hands, Takako decides to take an extended trip to her hometown to visit a former colleague and, near Kokutaiji temple, encounters her father’s former assistant, Iwakichi (Osamu Takizawa) panhandling near a well-traveled bridge. Blinded and disfigured, Iwakichi is unable to find work to support his only surviving family, his grandson, Taro who has been sent away to live in an orphanage. Upon learning that three children from the kindergarten class had survived the immediate effects of the bomb, Takako decides to pay a visit to each of the students, and in the process, becomes a compassionate witness to its aftermath.
Filmed in 1952 shortly after the end of American occupation, Children of Hiroshima reflects the contemplative, often apocalyptic, testimonial cinema of the hibakusha – the survivors of the atomic bomb. By interweaving real-life accounts of actual survivors with the observations of a fictional protagonist, Kaneto Shindo creates a deeply personal, yet objective chronicle of the world’s harrowing first encounter with the destructive potential of the atomic bomb on August 6, 1945: the highly formalized montage of everyday life unfolding against the sound of a ticking clock that resolutely moves ever closer towards the appointed bombing time of 8:15 AM; the haunting, reenacted shot of an anonymous victim’s “vaporized” charred outline on an outdoor staircase; the flashback image of children reciting nursery rhymes in circular formation that cuts to two broken, sequentially rotated shots of the former kindergarten teachers standing on a vacant lot of the former playground. Based on a collection of thoughtful poems and stories written by the young survivors of the Hiroshima bombing (compiled by Arata Osada), Children of Hiroshima is a pensive, compelling, and provocative account of the residual effects and incalculable human toll of the atomic bomb’s tragic and indelible legacy.
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