Director: Mori Masaki
Running time: 83 minutes
Genres: Anime, Japanese, War film, history
The Japan Foundation have hosted their venue to show a mix of contemporary and old movies that made a comment on Japanese history and society. I made a point to watching this anime because of the artist of the original manga.
Barefoot Gen originally was a Japanese manga series by Keiji Nakazawa. Loosely based on Nakazawa's own experiences as a Hiroshima survivor. The film follows the perspective of six-year-old boy Gen Nakaoka, who lives in poverty with his family. The film sets up the scene of them working laboriously in the fields tending to the wheat fields to make wheat flour and sell for money in order to buy food.
It is sad to see that Gen nor his siblings eat and anything that is available must be saved for his mother who is pregnant. This is possibly the most depressing part that they are all struggling let along with a baby on the way.
With an almost miscarriage, Gen does everything he can to help his family, not out of choice but necessity, if he can't who can? One of my favourite moments is when Gen and his brother sneak into a house to catch a carp to feed their mother to help her and the baby grow strong, they are caught by the owner and beaten but Gen gives a heart felt plea for his mother and insists he is beaten until he is allowed to keep the carp. The guy is shocked and lets them keep the carp
After many warning shots, one day on his way to school the inevitable happens and Hiroshima is destroyed by atom bomb. The animation used to show this is amazing. We see a girl near him, layer by layer being disintegrated from her clothes to her skin melting to his limbs being ripped off to her socks exploding and ashes. Gen is one of the lucky survivors, as most has been burt and mutated and are referred to as 'Ghosts'.
Now begins the struggle of not only poverty but the loss of his father, brother and sister, this was morbid to see them crushed but this was the reality of the situation. We hardly see relationships explored in the anime, as their simply was no time. Buildings are burning, they are looking for food, you look after your own and that is all. I would of liked to have known more about the doctor, the neighbors or the man with the carps but this anime was not slice of life.
Scenes of dead bodies, children, people monopolizing food follow however things do pan out and they gain shelter and Gen even finds his little brother's look a alike, Ryuto who they decide to adopt. Tomoko, his newborn sister is a ray of light. Gen and Ryuto looks for work to buy food and milk for the family especially Tomoko A man hires Gen to look after his brother Seiji, who has been burnt from head to toe and lives in filth as people refuse to clean him or stay within close proximity of him. We see his develop from a bitter human being with no interest in living or respect for the kids, who eventually warms up to the kids who bother to spend time with him and look after him. Seiji learns to paint with his teeth and gains joy for his hobby again. The kids leave with money to support themselves and he is left happy and with anew motivation to live despite his state.
Sadly things take a turn for the worse and all the aid comes too late and Tomoko dies from her rashes and undernourishment. The family pull together and carry on.
This was a real eye opener to the tragedies of war, radioactive rain which helped kjill people further the Piku disease which could infect healthy people and kill the mass population. The Film ends where it began with the wheat. This was a great choice for the Japan Foundation to show as it was neutral and did not pick sides of the Japanese or Americans.
For more information on the Japan Foundation and future film screenings go here