CAPSULE: First time writer/director Masaaki Tanabe recreates the neighborhood where he lived as a boy in Hiroshima as part of his presentation of the effects on his neighborhood of being hit by the Hiroshima blast. Disturbing images are kept to a bare minimum, though the horrific cannot be entirely avoided. But for the most part this account breathes life into the memories of a culture that died the instant the Atomic Age was born. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
[Of note, the date I saw this film was August 6, 2015, precisely seventy years after Hiroshima's most fateful day. That added to the poignancy of the watching experience.]
MESSAGE FROM HIROSHIMA is a documentary about the ill-fated city. It was written and directed by Masaaki Tanabe, but it is not the documentary that might be expected. There are painful stories and painful images, but Tanabe keeps them to the bare minimum that is almost required. Instead he tells the viewer about culture of his people in the years before the bombing, a culture that was literally erased from the Earth in a small fraction of a second. However his is not a message of anger and indignation at the fate of the people whom he loved and lost. It is just the opposite. He and other eyewitnesses tell us that we must never let our hatreds grow so great that anyone else must go through what his people suffered.
Through (subtitled) eyewitness accounts, narration (in English) by George Takei, paintings of the indescribable by the victims, and an animated computer model of his neighborhood Tanabe shows us what life was like in Hiroshima before the fateful day. He uses interviews to re-create the texture of life in his neighborhood. He tells us what their food was like and about two movie theaters in his neighborhood. One theater showed Japanese films, the other showed foreign films such as CITY LIGHTS and KING KONG. We also see the Industrial Promotion Hall, its famous dome destroyed down to its steel framework.
Much of the history is poignant. There are stories of children left by the bomb with little capability to feed themselves. Sadly they waited hoping for the arrival of parents who could not appear since they were not just dead but they were no longer existing in any form. And there are stories of places that are very different today than they would have been. The neighborhood he shows us is now the Peace Memorial Park where the Motoyasu and Honkawa rivers converge. It is a reminder of human beings who were so dreadfully lost in one bright flash.
The enemy in this film is not the Americans. Nor is it the Japanese government who called for and prosecuted the war. There is no mention about atrocities that the Japanese themselves committed. But the message as presented in the testimonials is that war is immoral and certainly it should never get to the extremes that both the Americans and the Japanese fell to in World War II and the conflicts that surrounded them.
Though it is limited by its 52-minute run time, this film is a strong experience. I rate MESSAGE FROM HIROSHIMA a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. One quibble: the film repeatedly refers to the Hiroshima bomb as being "the first Atomic Bomb in history." This discounts the device detonated at the Trinity test in New Mexico.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4759240/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/message_from_hiroshima_2015/
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2015 Mark R. Leeper