12 August 2007

An atomic truth

As many of you know, we've had the anniversaries of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki this last week. If you weren't aware of this, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were an unmitigated disaster that cost hundreds of thousands of civilians lives. It was a moral catastrophe for the US that appealed to the worst part of our American story: it is better that we do injustice to stop more injustice than do act justly at the cost of American lives.

Yoko and I watched two part television drama on the bombing of Hiroshima that was produced by the Japanese. It was interesting to me because the message of the drama was (basically) war is bad, atomic bombs are bad, and Japanese people are strong. The show upset me for a couple of reasons. The first was that the show portrayed the Japanese as primarily the victims of WWII. Although there was obviously a peacenik message, the story did not seriously criticize the Japanese or talk about any of the awful atrocities they committed in Korea, China, the Philippines, and other places in Asia. If someone wants to do some seriously groundbreaking film and put it on TV, how about a Japanese film from the Korean perspective. Now that might make some waves. I would be more forgiving if this drama existed among other dramas depicting those problems. Unfortunately, it does not.

Second, the drama was far, far too easy on the Americans. You get the feeling that the atomic bomb fell out of thin air — that it just happened. An official with the government just had to resign over saying the bombing was しょうがない (or 'couldn't be helped'), but I get the feeling that most people feel that way. Or, if they really feel it was wrong, they don't have any animosity towards the US. I don't get it. The film said almost nothing about the Americans.

Third, the drama was just really, really bad. Poorly acted and incredibly cheesy. Over-wrought. In 'Letters to Iwo Jima', Clint Eastwood did a better job of capturing the real sense of the war and the spirit of the Japanese and the cult of Shinto. This drama had all these campy, false moments that were supposed to make you feel bad, but it was like getting hit over the head with the emotion bat. I need some nuance. Someone give me some nuance.

The highlight, however, was the CG of the bombing. It was stunning. Bottles melting in the heat. City blocks being consumed in fire. The rest of the film looked like it was filmed on a soundstage, but that moment was shocking.

We both (the Japanese and the Americans) still have a lot to work through about our war. Unfortunately, we've both been moving backwards in the past couple of years.