Hiroshima, Fukushima and Kurosawa

Sandeep Banerjee

Frontier | Vol. 48, No. 49, Jun 12 – 18, 2016


How quickly things happened! In silence AK (character of Akira Kurosawa) was observing a Van Gogh gallery; he moved this side and that side and then he suddenly entered Van Gogh’s world through Le Pont de Langlois (1888) near that very bridge. He saw an injured Van Gogh whose time was running out and who was busy as if in the ‘Field with Haystacks’ (1890), a Wheatfield that the artist made immortal before he himself breathed his last. A melancholy Chopin piece (Prelude 15 in Db major) got interrupted by whistle sounds of some steam locomotive sometimes, and once the steam loco was visible too—an invention of early 1800s which had already found its place in vocabulary; as people heard Gogh commenting, “I work! I slave! I drive myself like a locomotive!” which happens when the complete picture appears before him ‘inside’ after he ‘devours’ the natural setting. Then, Crows were flapping wings. That could be heard. Van Gogh’s finally snapped the conversation saying, “I can’t stand here wasting my time talking to you!” He goes off, the crows rise up from the fields and the train again whistled, though it was faint, as if from a faraway place.

AK left the setting of Wheatfield with Crows (1890). The 5th dream-episode ‘Crows’ ends and starts the 6th dream-episode. Then ‘Mount Fuji in Red’ through a ‘string’ link—Van Gogh, an ardent lover of “Japonaiserie”, was inspired to create the Langlois Bridge by Ohashi Bridge in the Rain of Utagawa Hiroshige; he organised exhibition of the famous Mt Fuji series paintings and also one sees the Mt Fuji in the background in his self portrait.

Bright yellow and red colours appear; but not to brighten, rather they are frightening : the Red cloud is actually Plutonium-239, which causes cancer, the Yellow cloud is of Strontium-90, which produces leukaemia, then the purple cloud is made of Cesium-137, which may trigger mutations and beget deformed generations …explains a scientist (or might be a CEO). Nuclear reactors are exploding and there is no way out. “But they told us nuclear plants were safe”, someone wailed. People can escape these clouds, but that route is also a journey to death, they are to drown under the seal “Man’s stupidity is unbelievable”, inferred the scientist before he jumped to death into the ocean. The lady, who was frantically trying to save her only daughter, couldn’t succeed. The episode ends with the screen totally covered with poisonous clouds. Thus enter the Age of Nuclear Disasters.[1] And then through another ‘string’ link, the effect of nuclear meltdown and the fallout : the mutated generation of ‘Hibakusha’, comes in the 7th dream episode : “The Weeping Demons”. How cruel their fate was; the nuclear holocaust made them immortal, literally, but with an agonizing existence!

This outstanding movie received an outlandish welcome in the West. The New York Times was sympathetic but tried soften the sharp edges (if there is any) suggesting it was akin to magic realism. The Washington Post cold-shouldered it alleging ‘pontificating’. For the New Yorker, “The second half of “Dreams” is weak : the fifth episode, “Crows,” about a fantasy encounter with Van Gogh, is a thin conceit…” etc. The Daily Mail of UK suggested that it was Kurosawa’s “self-Indulgence”. But all these were far better than what Kurosawa got after his next personal project.

Like Van Gogh in the Dreams, Kurosawa perhaps sensed that his time was also running out. It was his very personal project and unlike any of his previous films the script was product of his solo effort and completed it in 8 months only to start his next : Rhapsody in August. The western powers surely knew Kurosawa’s view on Hiroshima-Nagasaki from the Kurosawa-Merquez long conversation when Marquez, master of magic-realism and one of Kurosawa’s illustrious fans, carne to visit him during the making of Rhapsody, a tale focusing on a Hibakusha herself.

It is hard to resist the temptation of presenting a part of the dialogue here.

Kurosawa : The full death toll for Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been officially published at 230,000. But in actual fact there were over half a million dead. And even now there are still 2,700 patients at the Atomic Bomb Hospital waiting to die from the after-effects of the radiation after 45 years of agony. In other words, the atomic bomb is still killing Japanese.

Garcia Marquez : The most rational explanation seems to be that the US rushed in to end it with the bomb for fear that the Soviets would take Japan before they did.

Kurosawa : Yes, but why did they do it in a city inhabited only by civilians who had nothing to do with the war? There were military concentrations that were in fact waging war.

Garcia Marquez : Nor did they drop it on the Imperial Palace, which must have been a very vulnerable spot in the heart of Tokyo. And I think that this is all explained by the fact that they wanted to leave the political power and the military power intact in order to carry out a speedy negotiation without having to share the booty with their allies. It’s something no other country has ever experienced in all of human history. Now then : Had Japan surrendered without the atomic bomb, would it be the same Japan it is today?

Kurosawa : It’s hard to say. The people who survived Nagasaki don’t want to remember their experience because the majority of them, in order to survive, had to abandon their parents, their children, their brothers and sisters. They still can’t stop feeling guilty. Afterwards, the US forces that occupied the country for six years influenced by various means the acceleration of forgetfulness, and the Japanese government collaborated with them. I would even be willing to understand all this as part of the inevitable tragedy generated by war. But I think that, at the very least, the country that dropped the bomb should apologize to the Japanese people. Until that happens, this drama will not be over.[2]

And so, at the Cannes meet-the-press one US reporter expressed his anger shouting, “Why was the bomb dropped in the first place?” As if Kurosawa had to start the film with some sort of ‘statutory apology’ like “we Japanese are sorry for ‘our’ war-efforts”! Many famous critics also thought Kurosawa was ‘chauvinist’ for not apologising for ‘war crimes’ on the part of Japanese govt. And this is a thing with that the west could not come in terms—that is their war crimes and their ‘ethics’, US being the only country that actually used Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD): both atomic (in Japan) and chemical bombs (in Vietnam).

Kurosawa did his next film in 1992-93 soon after this Rhapsody, wrote more scripts, met an accident in 1995 that made him wheelchair-bound, and took leave from the world in 1998. Had Kurosawa lived till Fukushima, he would have been upset seeing Japan govt obstinately pursuing nuclear power and anti-nuclear public sentiments are still lacking the power to overrule.

The Jap govt line is of course ‘explicable’ in some way—nuclear is a big business after all. Scientists or even some energy-economists may disprove and disapprove nuclear-power generation saying nuclear power is a bad economics and a safety nightmare, but the nuclear industry also has a lot of statisticians and economists and of course a great chunk of scientists and engineers in their fold to invent some other ‘truth’. This is true for Japan too. It is more so, because among the top five nuclear-reactor manufacturers, barring one French (AREVA) and one Russian venture (ROSATOM) other three biggies are Japanese owned: one is owned by Toshiba, one is owned by Hitachi and one is run by Mitsubishi. Reactors of the Fukushima plant were Japanese. And they are not just reactor makers; they are in innumerable sectors of industries, they are in almost everything. Toshiba is so aggressive that they bought up Westinghouse in 2006 and has more acquisition plans. Rising economies of BRICS and their rulers love nuclear power as various agreements show. Moreover, when one produces power using uranium, through some process one can get some enriched Plutonium, a good ingredient for nuclear weapons. In spite of all talks for peace or against terrorism many countries are stockpiling nuclear weapons; a number of them do that in undisclosed way and some of them always make sure that if they want it they can do it in six months. Nuclear Power is so irresistibly mouthwatering that even while ‘dying’ it will give you business opportunities. Decommissioning a nuclear power plant is a big job, and then burying nuclear waste under the sea is another sophisticated and expensive operation and profitable too.

Among big economies only Germany made clear its nuclear total-decommissioning desire and published the timeframe of accomplishing it.

There might be some 50 or so children near the uranium mines at Jadugoda, Jharkhand, who are crippled. But can you prove conclusively that they are Indian Hibakusha, affected by radiation from Jadugoda mining? So, why accuse nuclear! Many residents of Jaitapur, a seismic prone area in Maharashtra, do not want a nuclear plant to come up amidst them replacing many villagers. Same is the story of cyclone-prone Haripur in WB. But retorts are ready : ‘Is seismically more active Japan not pursuing nuclear electricity production?’ ‘Do we not have nuclear reactors in Iran and Armenia too?’ Trifle facts do not count; things that matter are the Economy, GDP, Growth, or Growth Rate. In this new era the world will not end in a whimper (though that may end in a bang and radioactive clouds).

So, in 1990, almost at the ‘End of History’ and just 100 years after Gogh’s Crows over Wheatfield, one sees two old men taking people to what in today’s parlance will be ‘backward’.

Akira Kurosawa in his last ‘Dream’ took the audiance to the Village of the Watermills, as if a Fukuwaka (Masanobu) village. There one hears some strange conversations :
—But what about lights?
—We’ve got candles and linseed oil.
—But the night’s so dark.
—Yes. That’s what the night is supposed to be. Why should night be as bright as day? …… We try to live the way man used to. That’s the natural way of life. People today have forgotten that they’re really just a part of nature. They destroy nature on which their life depends. They- especially scientists—believe they can make something better. They may be smart, but most don’t understand the nature of nature. They only invent things that in the end make people unhappy. Yet, they’re so proud of their inventions. What is worse, most people are, too. They view them as if they were miracles. They worship them.

At the same juncture another of Kurosawa’s Illustrious fans, Satyajit Ray, near the end of his life’s journey, was busy with his film : ‘Stranger’ (Agantuk}: It was about a globetrotter, who, disgruntled with sophisticated and cultured urban civilisation was escaping to a Santal (tribe) village to find asylum.

Like Van Gogh of 1890, Kurosawa and Roy of 1990 were also not having much time left.

PS : John Kerry, Secretary of State of the USA, visited Hiroshima in early April this year to give some finishing touches for Obama’s Hiroshima tour, just some months before the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima—Nagasaki Massacre by the USA. Kerry never asked for any apology and Obama will also not; rather, Obama will be lecturing Japanese about the consequence of a nuclear war. Obama has just released a trillion US$ for revamping US nuclear weaponry.[3] And Japan, by its roots inside the nuclear energy sector, can easily accumulate tons of nuclear ‘gunpowder’—enriched uranium, plutonium and sort. 26 years after “Dreams” people are in a more dangerous world, in front of severer nightmares.

References :
1.    Hiroshima, Nagasaki bombing by the USA in 1945, Three Miles Island (USA) in 1979, Chernobyl, Ukraine  (in the then Soviet Russia or USSR) in 1986, and then another event unseen by Kurosawa, Fukushima in 2011.
2.   Courtesy: http://www.openculture.com/2014/07/akira-kurosawa-gabriel-garcia-marquez-talk-about-filmmaking.html
3    Nuclear Transparency and the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan, April 7, 2016,

Source: http://www.frontierweekly.com/articles/vol-48/48-49/48-49 Hiroshima.html#sthash.fpvyA6Od.dpuf

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