Perhaps still a controversial subject to this day, because it elicits such a strong emotional response, the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima is something that reflects in Japan’s national culture and consciousness over and over, in numerous and sometimes subtle forms. From the heart-wrenching, almost terrifying spectacle of Bhuto, an avant garde dance form, to the infamous Toho Studios monster movies like Godzilla, such events that shape history leave the world changed not only on a social and political level, but perhaps far more importantly on an intimate, every day level. In the medium of animation, Barefoot Gen stands, along with Grave of the Fireflies, as a film that maps that intimacy with horror in a way far too courageous to ignore.
Manga artist and Hiroshima native Keiji Nakazawa was only seven years old when his city was destroyed and this film, based on his work, is by no means easy to watch. In fact, it’s quite often horrific and frightening and deeply disturbing — everything a film about the use of nuclear weapons ought to be. But its deliberately personal narrative offers something that the irredeemably tragic narrative of Grave of the Fireflies didn’t — hope. I fully recommend this film, but – and not to belittle the subject matter in any way – have tissues on hand. Regardless of age, ethnicity or gender, I guarantee you will need them.