White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Positives:One of the quintessential documentaries of our time.
Negatives:Can churn your stomach in an instant.
You may not want to watch it, but you owe it to yourself to do it anyway. Trust me.
On August 6 of 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima less than one month after their initial test. With the clear intent of ”completely destroying Japan’s power to make war”, a second bomb was then dropped three days later of the city of Nagasaki. This is the must-see story of the only people on Earth who survived a nuclear blast.
Here is a complete rundown of the candid survivors who shared their stories ( it might seem tedious at this point, but suck it up, it’s worth it ). Yasuyo Tanaka and Chiemi Oka were the eldest of 20 or so children in an orphanage when the bomb went off. ”Why did I survive?” asked Kiyoko Imori visually traumatized by her experiences. While Shigeko Sasamori wondered out loud in broken English: ”If I didn’t get bomb, what kind of life I had?”.
After being asked the question ”What did you do in those early days?” American Harold Agnew‘s unfailing reply is: ”Whatever I was asked to do!”. Harold was a scientific observer, high in the sky, that day. Sakue Shimohira, a first grader at the time of the explosion, remembers nothing but fear. Katsuji Yoshida was 13 in 1945 and was left disfigured by the bomb. As for Sunao Tsuboi, he was 20 years old and a university student in Hiroshima the day the bomb dropped.
In 1945, Dr. Shuntaro Hida was caring for patients at Hiroshima Army Hospital where he still works today. Morris Jeppson was 23 and the weapon’s test officer on-board the infamous Enola Gay. A kid at the time, Satoru Fukahori had quickly realized the fact that Japan could not win the war. He explains: ”We didn’t have anything. We needed everything”. On the other hand, Lawrence Johnston engineered the detonator for the nuclear weapon and seems rather jolly when talking about his participation.
Panyeon Kim is one of the Korean victims of the nuclear attack due to the fact that she had to escape starvation by migrating to Hiroshima. American navigator Theodore Van Kirk was ready for action the day of the mission. Poor Etsuko Nagano was somewhere in Nagasaki and had heard the siren’s warning for a possible raid but when the siren suddenly stopped she carried on with her day.
Then there was Senji Yamaguchi, 14 years old, was digging out an air raid shelter. Sumiteru Taniguchi sorted and delivered mail for the post office. He was riding on his bicycle, delivering a package when the second bomb went off. And even though Keiji Nakazawa was only 6 when he survived, he was asked to create a comic book about his experiences. The comic would later become the 1988 animated movie “Barefoot Gen” ( which makes an excellent addition to this documentary, if you can find it ). Eighteen very different personalities. One horrible thing in common.
It is a treat to have testimonial accounts of eye-witnesses that actually know deep down in their very bones what a nuclear bomb is. In the same way that holocaust survivors shared their stories, these people gave us a glimpse of something you and I can only dream of ( or have a nightmare about ). That being said, when the time comes and the last of the survivors passes on we will lose a very special group of people. This film is completely unique.
The footage shoot in black and white of the period is a marvel. From aerial shots to television broadcasts, the fine people at HBO did a great job of gathering enough material to really add to the overall experience. You’ll find detailed images and clips of the bomb, before and after the explosion, that really give the viewer a chance to imagine the might of such a weapon. I should mention that if you are squeamish the horrific nature of certain parts of the documentary might outright shock you.
”I do not know how the Third World War will be fought, but I can tell you what they will use in the Fourth……. rocks!” said Albert Einstein. Today we can make sense of his statement thanks to our knowledge of the ultimate force that is a nuclear explosion. Einstein understood that even the worst of bombs would someday be in the arsenal of many if not most nations. I guess that is why the ”Never again” attitude of the survivors is today one of the most important message to pass on.
White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ,