Children of Hiroshima

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Children of Hiroshima
Genbaku no ko 3.jpg
Kanji 原爆の子
Revised Hepburn Gembaku no ko
Directed by Kaneto Shindō
Written by
  • Kaneto Shindō
  • Arata Osada (book)
Produced by Kōzaburō Yoshimura
Starring Nobuko Otowa
CinematographyTakeo Itō
Edited byZenju Imaizumi
Music by Akira Ifukube
Release date
  • August 6, 1952 (1952-08-06)
[1] [2]
Running time
98 Minutes [1] [2]

Children of Hiroshima (原爆の子, Gembaku no ko, lit. "Children of the Atomic Bomb") is a 1952 Japanese drama film directed by Kaneto Shindō. It was entered into the 1953 Cannes Film Festival. [3]



Takako Ishikawa (Nobuko Otowa) is a teacher on an island in the inland sea off the coast of post-war Hiroshima. During her summer holiday, she takes the ferry to her hometown Hiroshima to visit the graves of her parents and younger sister, who were killed in the Atomic bombing. She sees a beggar and recognises him as Iwakichi (Osamu Takizawa), a former servant of her parents, now burned on the face and partially blind. She follows him to his poor shack, where he is looked after by a woman living next door, and asks about his family. With his wife, his son and daughter-in-law dead, Iwakichi's only surviving relative is his grandson Tarō, who lives in an orphanage. Takako visits the orphanage and finds the children barely have enough to eat. She offers to take Iwakichi and his grandson back with her, but Iwakichi refuses, running away.

Takako goes on to visit Natsue Morikawa, a former colleague at the kindergarten where she used to teach, and now a midwife. Natsue has been rendered sterile as an aftereffect of the bomb, and is planning to adopt a child with her husband. Natsue and Takako visit the site of the kindergarten, which is now destroyed, and Takako decides to visit the students of the kindergarten.

The father of the first student she visits, Sanpei, has suddenly been taken ill from a radiation-related illness and dies just before she arrives. Another one of the students is terminally ill and dying in a church, where many people with bomb-related injuries are gathered.

After staying the night in Natsue's house, she then goes to visit another student, Heita. His sister (Miwa Satō), who has an injured leg, is just about to get married, and Takako dines with her. She talks to Heita's older brother Kōji (Jūkichi Uno) about the people who died or were injured in the war.

She returns to Iwakichi's house and asks him again to let her take Tarō back to the island. At first he refuses, but later his neighbour convinces him to let Takako take care of Tarō. However, Tarō still refuses to leave his grandfather. On the last evening before Takako's departure, Iwakichi invites Tarō for a meal, gives him new shoes he bought for him, and sends him to Takako with a letter. Then he sets his house on fire. He survives the fire but is badly burned and eventually dies. Tarō leaves Hiroshima together with Takako, carrying his grandfather's ashes.



The film was commissioned by the Japan Teachers Union and was based on first-person testimonies gathered by Japanese educator Arata Osada, collected in the 1951 book Children of the Atomic Bomb. [4] The end of the post-war occupation of Japan by American forces allowed the production of works addressing the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagaski. [5]


The film was successful in Japan on its initial release and had its international premiere at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival, but the Japan Teachers Union, which had commissioned the film, criticized its "outsider" view of the physical and personal devastation of the bombing and especially the lack of clear political and social criticism, concentrating instead on the stories of a few individuals. The union then commissioned another film, Hiroshima (released in 1953), by director Hideo Sekigawa, which was far more graphic in its depiction of the bombing's aftermath and far more critical of both American and Japanese leaders who had brought about the disaster. [5]

In 1959, film historian Donald Richie perceived a major weakness in the film, its "coupling of the most lifelike naturalism with truly excessive sentimentality", but emphasized that "it showed the aftermath of the bomb without any vicious polemic". [6]

Children of Hiroshima was met with positive reviews on its American debut in 2011. In a review of the film, where he also comments on its place in Kaneto Shindō's career, The New York Times critic A.O. Scott remarks: "Mr. Shindo combines austerity and sensuality to stirring, sometimes mesmerizing effect. The beauty of the compositions in Children of Hiroshima — the clarity of focus, the graceful balance within the frames — provides some relief from the grimness of his subject. […] He contemplates Japan’s wartime experience with regret, rather than indignation". [7]

In The Village Voice , J. Hoberman called it "a somber melodrama" which lacks in subtlety but has "the capacity to wound". [8] Film scholar Alexander Jacoby resumed, "it remains one of Shindo’s most moving films, and a testament to the anti-war spirit that took root in Japan after its defeat". [9]

The film holds a score of 86/100 on review aggregation site Metacritic. [10]

Themes and Analysis

The film commemorates the a-bomb attack on Hiroshima and the tragedies that followed, which the U.S. forces censored during their occupation of Japan that ended months before the film’s release. [11] The film commemorates the hibakusha people and highlights how they were ostracized in Japanese society through characters who are refused work due to their visible injuries caused by the bombs and the radiation. [11] However, the film also promotes Japan’s sentiment of victimization through the tragedy of nuclear attacks. It leaves out the struggles of other Asian countries during the war and how Japan was also a victimizer. [12] There is a lack of a larger context of wartime Japan within the film as it depicts Japan as a calm and prosperous place before the bombs. The film displays the victimization of Japan in flashback scenes of the bombing, where children cry over their dead mother's bodies, representing a broken bond of life. [12] The film’s emphasis on the destruction that followed the bombing resonates with the anti-war and pro-democracy messages of several social interest groups, including the Japan Teachers Union. [13]

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  1. 1 2 "原爆の子 (Children of Hiroshima)". Japanese Movie Database (in Japanese). Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  2. 1 2 "原爆の子 (Children of Hiroshima)" (in Japanese). Kinema Junpo . Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  3. "Festival de Cannes: Gembaku no ko". Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  4. Bajo, Toshiko (November 20, 2009). "Translations of "Children of the Atomic Bomb" grow in number". Hiroshima Peace Media Center. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  5. 1 2 Watanabe, Kazu (May 3, 2018). "A Tale of Two Hiroshimas". The Criterion Collection. Archived from the original on 2019-03-03. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  6. Anderson, Joseph L.; Richie, Donald (1959). The Japanese Film – Art & Industry. Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company.
  7. Scott, A.O. (April 21, 2011). "Japanese Survivors Shaded by Puzzlement and Sorrow". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2011-05-01. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  8. Hoberman, J. (April 20, 2012). "Surviving the Bomb in Children of Hiroshima". The Village Voice]. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  9. Jacoby, Alexander (November 18, 2013). "Classical virtues: Shindo Kaneto and Yoshimura Kozaburo". British Film Institute. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  10. "Children of Hiroshima Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  11. 1 2 Dower, John (Spring 1995). "The Bombed: Hiroshimas and Nagasakis in Japanese Memory". Diplomatic History: 283.
  12. 1 2 Dower, John (Spring 1995). "The Bombed: Hiroshimas and Nagasakis in Japanese Memory". Diplomatic History: 284.
  13. Seraphim, Franziska (March 15, 2008). War Memory and Social Politics in Japan, 1945–2005. (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Asia Center, 2006), 94.: Harvard University Asia Center. p. 94. ISBN   978-0674028302.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)