an area of the map for world news.
Januray 2002 issue of
World Press Review
(VOL. 49, No. 1)
Breaking the Hiroshima
Werly, Libération (left-wing), Paris, France,
Oct. 17, 2001
Even as Nobuhiro
Suwas H Story [inspired by Alain Resnais
1959 film Hiroshima mon amour] appears on French movie
screens, a new Japanese movie is being shot in the martyred
city of Hiroshima. Directed by Yoshida and financed by the French
National Film Center to the tune of 20 million francs [US$2.7
million], the film tells the story of three generations of women
from the fateful day of Aug. 6, 1945, to the present.
This production is a rare occurrence because Hiroshima and Nagasaki
continue to paralyze Japanese filmmakers. The unspeakable pain
of the first atomic bomb, about which Japanese schoolchildren
are taught from an early age, seems to stun everyone who tries
to get to know Hiroshima. Even the director of H Story,
a native of the city, hasnt escaped the phenomenon. It
all started with my friend, the American filmmaker Robert Kramer
(Kramer died in November 1999), Suwa recounts. He
had a clear idea of Hiroshima, of the memory the city carries,
and of what he wanted to say. With me it was differentI
had nothing to say at first. Japanese people cant see
or talk about this city. Its both too intimate and too
Kramer is gone. But the will to go on for him, and
Suwas desire to retrace the steps of Hiroshima mon amour,
the path-breaking film by Alain Resnais, eventually won the
day: The personality of the city as well as the ever-present
nature of Resnais work really took over during our shoot.
I had seen the film in my student days, but it didnt mean
much to me then. It was when I came into contact with the city
of Hiroshima that the films evidence, its strength, became
so impressive, says Suwa, whose film hasnt yet been
released in Japan.
Hiroshima mon amour is the inevitable reference
for Japanese artistic expression about Hiroshima, opines Abi
Sakamoto, who was an editor for the now-defunct Japanese edition
of the French film magazine Cahiers du cinéma.
You couldnt say that the film is among the best
known French feature films. Resnais himself is less famous here
than [Jean-Luc] Godard or [Jacques] Rivette. But for movie fans
in Japan, Resnais name is forever linked with that of
this murdered city. For Alain Resnais was able to express
what is so hard for the Japanese to talk about: this never-healed
wound, this absence of everything that makes Resnais Japanese
actor say to his French lover: Youve seen nothing
The magic of this film is that of an external observer,
Suwa believes. The tragedy can be seen and understood
only through foreign eyes. In Hiroshima mon amour, the
dialogue between a Japanese man and a French woman illuminates
everything. From the very beginning, I knew that my film had
to be structured this same way: as a conversation between two
ways of seeing, as an intimate relationship between the city
and two beings who have a different vision of it.
In the face of problems like these, as well as a general lack
of understanding of the nuclear tragedy, few Japanese directors
have dared attack the subject. Shohei Imamura made Black
Rain, about a Hiroshima family trying to separate themselves
from a niece who was exposed to radiation in the explosion.
Akira Kurosawa told the story of Nagasaki, Japans other
martyred city, in Rhapsody in August. In this film, Richard
Gere playsrather shallowlya Japanese-American who
comes back to apologize for the nuclear attack.
For the Japanese public, Hiroshima is mainly a backdrop for
a television series, or a subject for documentaries. The Americans
exorcised the disaster at Pearl Harbor through a Hollywood super-production
of the same name, which is still occupying movie screens in
Tokyo. The Japanese, though, are hardput when it comes to Hiroshima:
People will talk about the Godzilla series (Godzilla being
a giant lizard born of the atomic explosion), or the Barefoot
Gen comics by Keiji Nakazawa (semiautobiographical best
sellers about a family driven from their home by the explosion),
says Nobuhiko Ono, owner of a video rental shop in north Tokyo.
But for Japanese creators, Hiroshima is a dead city.
Why does silence reign over Hiroshima? Its not fair
to talk of silence, objects Abi Sakamoto, because
the documentary director Iwasaki filmed the scene in 1945. Its
the full-length, fictional feature film that creates problems.
Arnaud Duquesne, a French student who is writing his thesis
on the Japanese film industry, says the amnesia results from
Japans difficulty with introspection and the countrys
still-painful memories: To deal with Hiroshima, the Japanese
must ask questions about the war and its origins, and thus about
the Japanese roots of the conflict. Kurosawa, who released
Rhapsody in August in 1991, almost 50 years after Pearl
Harbor, was subjected to intense criticism. The Western press
accused him of dealing only with Japans pain, of turning
Japan into a victimwhich made Kurosawa furious.
Its too much, then, to suggest that Japans filmmakers
have forgotten Hiroshima. Resnais and Hiroshima itself are part
of Japans cinematographic memory. Will Yoshidas
film open the way to fictional treatments of the city? I
hope people are ready now, says Abi Sakamoto. Maybe
we dont need to hide Hiroshima any longer. In 1961,
when Resnais film appeared in Japan, it was rebaptized
for the local market. Presented as a love story, the film bore
the title A 24-Hour Affair.