We go back. The idea is this now. We go back. We go to the heart of the issue of dystopia themed art in Japan. We translate the fear that strikes the chord in these particular stories.
It was just a Little Boy and a Fat Man.
The NUCLEAR Art of Japan
This collective suffering of the Japanese still lingers on. People are still suffering from its effects. It is a theme undoubtedly repeated through many artworks, even if the piece of art itself is not clearly referring to the bombings. (see. Neon Genesis Evangelion, Akira, etc.)
Firstly, let’s take a look at a more ‘direct’ example. Isao Takahata’s — Hotaru no haka (Grave of the Fireflies / 1988). What Takahata is doing is visually clear, he is creating a world of chaos, destruction, pain and injustice and the viewer is experiencing all that through the eyes of two innocent kids that just happened to be there. He is ‘forcing’ you to feel and he is triumphantly succeeding — from my own perspective that is. This is achieved through simple images, he is not trying too much and he is not hiding behind them. The image of planes going by in the skies, long horizontal lines against the small, vertical ones of the children, conveys perfectly the constant feeling of threat and vulnerability.
This balance shifts when the bombs start raining down and their downward movement now overwhelms the small lines of the children beneath emphasizing on the hopelessness and inevitability of their situation. The war reigns on and there is no escape. The children fight for their survival. But at the end, fire was not their single foe. This particular film does not dwell in the topic of nuclear disaster per se but the after effects of that attack. The results of any war really. Those who fight die and those who don’t die as well. Hunger, disease, mental meltdown; a whole film based on the the struggle for survival, the need to protect what’s yours, the futility of war and the inevitability of death. Both text and subtext, in Grave of the Fireflies, embody an endless nightmarish vision of passivity and despair. It suggests a history that can never be escaped or transcended but that must be continually experienced as harrowing, painful and relentlessly oppressive.
I know, it’s a Ghibli film, but Isao – senpai is not fooling around.
On the other hand, Keiji Nakazawa’s Hadashi no Gen (Barefoot Gen / 1983) conveys a feeling of resistance, hope and renewal, although depicting the same horrific war scenes, in contrast with the passivity and powerlessness of the Grave of the Fireflies.
Though it has been heavily criticized by the Hibakusha community, the graphics of the manga and anime help to “convey the unconveyable” of the bomb’s horror. “While Grave of the Fireflies uses the elegiac mode and realistic graphics to show a slowly dying world, Barefoot Gen indulges in the apocalyptic mode with a grotesque and frenzied graphic style to show a world paradoxically dynamic in its own destruction” (Napier, 2005)
Another core difference between the two films is the character of the protagonists. While Seita is caring and thoughtful but passive and oppressed, Gen is energized and rebellious going against the authorities and claiming what is his. Where Grave of the Fireflies seems to convey a message of passivity and slow painful changing in the world around the characters, Barefoot Gen seems to be filled with action and deals with the feelings of resistance and rebuilding. Grave of the Fireflies could be seen as a lament dedicated to the bombings disaster, a continuous story of pain and sadness using realistic depictions of the events. In contrast, Barefoot Gen is using intense and frantic images, filled with saturated colours and grotesque and twisted illustrations of the event; seemingly applying more ‘gravity’ to that single moment that everything changed.
To conclude this delirium, both films tell a story differently but both films end up in the same concept, the collective trauma of a whole nation and the creation of a dystopian life, a hell on Earth, where children are forced to grow up and die by the hands of the adults who are supposed to protect them.