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White Light / Black Rain (2007)
3 (2 votes)

White Light / Black Rain (2007)

The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

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On August 15, 1945, President Harry S. Truman announced on television that Japan had surrendered. This decision was prompted by the catastrophic events of August 6 and 9, 1945, in which the United States of America dropped atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, causing massive destruction of the infrastructure and loss of human life.

It is generally the job of contemporary documentary films to provide us with what the commercial film does not – to shine a light on dark places, draw attention to painful or politically dangerous subjects, create in the audience empathy for those difficult or painful or dangerous subjects. To so flood the viewer with image and sound that the regular senses are overwhelmed and a new climate of sympathy and belief is created. Documentary films are very often vehicles for highly political subjects and/or for events that have become obscure or nearly forgotten. The films become the voice of the almost voiceless. White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is a good example of the genre.

The film opens with the assertion that the events of August 1945 have largely been forgotten, even in Japan. It begins with interviews with young Japanese women in a Hiroshima shopping mall. They are asked: “What happened in Hiroshima, on August 6, 1945?”

None of them knew. Giggling, they say: “I don’t know. I’m bad at history.” “Was it an earthquake?”

The film comments that as 75% of the current Japanese population was born after 1945, perhaps this is not so surprising. But it also makes the point that an event most viewers might regard as absolutely pivotal in world history has become an almost complete nonevent to these young Japanese.

The film effectively weaves commentary – jingoistic US propaganda about Japan and its people and statistics, with powerful images, including some from the manga “Barefoot Gen,” of the victims of the bomb and its aftermath. The people are eloquent, speaking simply and without much emotion about their suffering. They do not dramatize. They are seldom political. Often they seem not to understand their own predicaments which makes them all the more effective as speakers.

Contrast their stoic attitudes with the words of a US TV announcer: “The Japanese people are different from the people of the United States. They are strong in their military. Yet their thinking is 2,000 years out of date.” It is not hard to figure out the message: that the enemy, feudalistic, not quite human, deserves whatever treatment the victor sees fit to hand out.

IMDB (8.4)