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maryann johanson | watching movies at home

White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (review)

Today is the 62nd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima — the day is almost over in Japan, so already we’ve got reports about how the anniversary was commemorated. But some people don’t know what the date means… like the teenagers in Hiroshima American filmmaker Steven Okazaki talks to as his heartrending documentary White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Debuting tonight on HBO and tomorrow on DVD, this is a simple, apolitical reminder — an act of passionate but clearheaded pleading — that we must never forget the horrors of Japan in the summer of 1945. Okazaki, who won an Oscar last year for his short doc “The Mushroom Club,” talks to survivors of both bombings, most of whom were children when their cities were nuked, who relay their ordeals of survival and drawings of what they saw, nightmarish words and images of things no one should have to endure, and the ongoing, neverending trauma of being a survivor, from the guilt still weighing down one woman who believes she is responsible to the death of her family to the worry that children and grandchildren — should they be lucky enough to have been able to reproduce — will still suffer the aftereffects of their radiation exposure. (U.S. army still photography and film of the destruction and aftermath that was suppressed for 25 years afterward adds other layers to the horrors: the physical healing process for survivors was another kind of torture, medical footage reveals.) Today, Okazaki shows us, Hiroshima and Nagasaki look like any other bustling modern city, but its scars continue to run deep and, it seems, may be nigh on unhealable.

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MPAA: not rated

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