Monday, December 22, 2014

Barefoot Gen

On December 7th, 1941, 353 Japanese aircraft flew over the US Base at Pearl Harbour and bombed it in an effort to keep the US from interfering in Japan's plans for Southeast Asia. This would be the catalyst that would drag the US into World War II, on two fronts. Less than 4 years later, on August 6th, 1945, the US would bring the first of two decisive blows to ensure their victory at the end of the war. The implications of this act stretch beyond the political or the physical into almost all facets of being, and while we are not here to debate such an act, it is crucial to remember that there were innocents abound at the time. Not everyone in Japan supported the conflict, and close to 250,000 people were killed as a result.

A family stands tall to face an uncertain future.

Hadashi no Gen (Barefoot Gen) is one man's semi-fictionalized account of his own experience on August 6th, 1945, and the days after. Nakazawa Keiji, the author, was just 6 years old when Little Boy reduced his hometown to rubble and killed off most of his family. The only thing that saved him from harm was his bending down into the shadow of a stone wall when the bomb hit. This small act would keep him in good enough shape to survive and persevere despite all the adversity he has to face.

Hiroshima before...

Gen began life as a non-fiction account known as Ore wa Mita (I Saw It), a one-shot manga in which the author described the events he saw and his life after. Following the success of this, he tweaked the details a bit and released the semi-autobiographical 10-volume work Barefoot Gen in 1973. At a time when most Japanese were reluctant to talk about the events of the war, this manga was a bold choice to stand tall and face what happened. It became a huge success in Japan and elsewhere, being translated into English (three times!), Esperanto, German, Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish, though only the English and possibly Esperanto versions made it all the way to the end.

...And after.

The first of the two animated films arrived on the scene in 1983, being made by Studio Madhouse. It shows its age slightly, but still remains relevant and poignant due to subject matter and Madhouse's animation quality. The images are graphic and disturbing at certain points, and light and refreshing at others, as a tale of that time should be. The contrast is not only striking, it's true, and evokes great emotion. I cried the first time i saw it.

The lighter, happier moments are rare, but they take the tension off a bit when they're there.

Having seen both the Dub and the Sub, I can point out that both are equally good, at different points. Gen's performance in Japanese seems to fall a little flat, as if the actor were just parroting off lines without even knowing the context. On the other hand, other characters have more emotion in Japanese than they do in English. The result is a toss-up; watch what you prefer, and it won't really make a difference.

This is literally the only thing that saves him.

The audio, like the video, shows its age a bit, but the opening and ending themes are particularly nice. The opening especially fills me with heartache at the urgency and panic in the instruments, followed by the nostalgic ballad tone. I had a hard enough time tracking down ANY semblance of a soundtrack that eventually i gave up, downloaded the first 9 minutes of the movie, and clipped the opening audio myself.

I believe this is an artists' rendering, but it still demonstrates the enormity of it all.

On the whole, Gen is and always will be a masterful tale of the ravages of war. It is something we should take care to never forget about, as only by learning from the past can we ever hope to get past it. Despite the graphic imagery, I would have no problem showing this to children, not to scare them, but to show them what anger, hatred, and fear can do.

We today can't even imagine what these people had to go through.

Barefoot Gen is a bit tricky to find; though an English Dub exists, it was made only for the VHS version from 1999. Geneon put out a DVD of it in 2005, however, this only contains the Japanese version. (Image Entertainment also put out a DVD; i'm not sure when it was released.) It's also available on DVD from Madman Entertainment in Australia, and from a website known as Zakka Films.

Gen shows a vast amount of courage beyond many 6-year-olds.


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