Unthinkable Catastrophe

Under occupation by Allied forces after WWII, Japan underwent strict censorship. General MacArthur removed images circulating in the press concerning Nagasaki, and under those circumstances, Hiroshima could not have been made.

Hiroshima does not soften America’s choice to launch nuclear weapons. The first act is a school day lesson, set seven years after Hiroshima/Nagasaki, unflinching in its efforts to maintain truth against propaganda. In the classroom, students discuss western hypocrisy that condemned German death camps, while letting Japanese endure radiation burns, cancers, and other debilitating health impacts without treatment – doctors only examined patients, akin to experimenting on victims.

Hiroshima’s dramatic recreations display an uncomfortable authenticity

Yet for the American fears of Japan depicting their agony, Hiroshima equally, even more so, judges their own blind nationalism. It’s impossible to pick one moment in a film with so many. Children lie crushed under their school’s rubble as one shouts an Imperialist manifesto over the screams. “What good is it?” replies another grade school-age victim. Burned and wearing what’s left of their tattered clothes, suffering civilians march in a food line, accepting rice on plates made from rubble, while a soldier blares on a megaphone to get back to work for Japan’s success.

During a government briefing, scientists plead with military leaders to surrender, lest another bomb fall. They can only bow their heads as jingoist rhetoric is sent in their direction. Near the room’s window, a moth tries to escape through the glass, a visual metaphor for the science adviser’s own helplessness against an island nation so riled, logic cannot penetrate.

There’s limited story in Hiroshima. The dramatic recreations display an uncomfortable authenticity, this a mere independent film made to preserve history rather than develop characters as in traditionally formulated disaster films. Minimal plotting primarily details the recovery, both in how superficial the government’s response was (trying to uplift people with posters amid rubble), and the country’s stringent social structure. A young girl walks with a limp, scarred by the blast, and believes herself unfit for marriage. Japan is not a country welcoming to individuality, even when caused by deformity or tragedy; these attacks changed nothing.

“We are completely miserable now,” says a student before Hiroshima flashes back to the night before the bomb. It’s perspective – the lingering illness and uncertainty in a scarred country appears unlivable. The loss leaves many orphaned. Yet before, a night is spent with a mother clutching her children as they note their hunger, air raid sirens ceaseless. They were miserable then too because of their leader’s gross ambitions. Hiroshima’s fearful finish begs anyone listening not to make these mistakes again. That goes for both sides, in a film flush with nuance, grimness, stark reality, and a desperate appeal to not lose the truth.


Rarely seen on western shores, Arrow brings Hiroshima to Blu-ray with understandably inconsistent results. Drawn from an international release print, the imagery looks battered, heavily damaged at times, wobbling due to gate weave, and distracting with severe flicker. It’s unfortunate this likely represents the best available materials; restoration can only correct so much.

At its best though, Arrow puts out a stellar presentation, capable in resolution. Fine grain readily resolves, leaving imagery clear and frequently high in textural density. The makeups mimicking burns and scars make a notable presence. Scenes filmed amid rubble convey scale, capturing the debris to minute levels. Close-ups render facial definition courtesy of this high-res scan.

While slightly pale, there’s enough gray scale to indicate depth. Gradients smoothly segue into one another, exterior sunlight heated, and grim hospital interiors appropriately unnerving in their darkness.


As with the video, damage inflicts the sound too. PCM preserves what it can, but that includes heavy static, extreme popping, and tears causing a skip with each edit. Dialog under this aging brings its own harshness. Each line stretches treble limits.

Akira Ifukube’s somber score, including a main track later utilized in 1954’s Godzilla, offers marginally better smoothness. A choir within sounds entirely garbled though.


Hiroshima Nagasaki Download is introduced by the director who speaks on his work – a 72-minute documentary – and draws comparison to our own time to help correlate with the history. It’s a documentary worthy of being a main feature, interviewing survivors around 2009.

Jasper Sharp pens a 33-minute video essay about Japan’s nuclear films that’s an essential watch too. An interview with actress Yumeji Tsukioka runs six-minutes as she discusses her role and the film.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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Willing to confront Japan’s own mistakes and America’s actions equally, Hiroshima stands as a too-little seen document about war’s brutality.

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