It's the summer of 1945. 3 years have elapsed since the war between Japan and USA began. Gen is a young boy living a struggling yet satisfying life in the city of Hiroshima, that has been strangely spared by the bombing taken in almost every other Japanese City. Food is scarce, and Gen's family is suffering from severe malnutrition, which endangers his pregnant mother. There isn't much spare time as Gen and his little brother Shinji help their father and mother at work and try to make sure their family survives the tough times. Little do they know, what the Americans have in store for the city of Hiroshima and as of the 6th of August 1945, their lives are about to change dramatically.
"I dug my father, sister and brother out of the ruins. Their skulls and other bones were intact. I thought humans became like that when they were burnt. When my mother's body was cremated however, there were very few bones. It made me shake with anger that the atomic bomb radiation deprived my mother, who had survived for 21 years, of even her bones. I vowed never to endure wars or atomic bombs"
(Taken from an interview with Nakazawa Keiji by Jonathan Clements.)
On Moday, August 6th, 1945, the US bomber Enola Gay dropped the atomic bomb known as "Little Boy" on the city of Hiroshima, Japan.
The explosion killed around 70,000 people immediately, with almost as many again dead from the resulting radiation by the end of 1945.
Nakazawa Keiji, the author of Barefoot Gen, was 6 years old at the time of the bombing, and is one of the survivors of the destruction of Hiroshima. The bomb was responsible for the death of his father, his sister, and his brother. At the age of 6 he and his mother dug their remains out of the ruins of their home. In 1963 Nakazawa moved to Tokyo to become a manga artist, but returned to Hiroshima in 1966 to attend his mothers funeral. It was his discovery of the true impact of the radiation from the bomb that inspired him to risk becoming a social pariah by openly discussing his experience of the bomb with the first of his "Black" series, Beneath the Black Rain.
Barefoot Gen is the autobiographical account of his experience of the bomb and radiation. The manga was fraught with problems because of it's nature and content, and was effectively sidelined by mainstream publications. In 1976 however, a volunteer group called Project Gen was formed, and they took on the task of producing english translations of the manga. In truth, Barefoot Gen was the first manga to be translated and published in english.
The story was later adapted into three live action movies, two animated features, and a TV series, however the first anime movie adaptation remains, to this day, one of the most harrowing versions because of its counterintuitive nature.
As the story in Barefoot Gen is predominantly autobiographical it is difficult to consider it in terms of a normal story. The anime loses out to the manga in certain repects because sections had to be left out, however this in no way takes away from the story which remains an reasonably accurate, if abbreviated, account of Nakazawa's sof the bomb and its aftermath.
The art style is unusual in that it adopts a more "cartoony" approach compared to other anime, however the movie manages to attain a certain ethereal quality that the manga cannot match, especially in its depiction of the results of radiation sickness. The atomic blast is rendered with shocking clarity, and the transformation of people into "monsters" (from Gen's perspective), is horrifyingly realised.
Althought production values may be dated (the anime is over 25 years old now), the movie should not be marginalised on the basis of "poor" animation. The cartoon like quality of the characters only adds to the emotional impact, as it is a stark contrast to how "normal" cartoon characters are depicted.
Sound is another area where the movie shows its age. The effects, although well used, can sometimes be overwhelming for the viewer, while at other times the various noises are relegated to the background. This can give the movie a slightly "off-kilter" feeling for some viewers, but for the most part the sound and visuals work well together.
The music is generally good throughout the movie. The various pieces used to enhance the impact of a given scene are generally appropriate and fairly well choregraphed, especially during the more foreboding scenes. The variety of tracks complement the pervading atmosphere of the film, and most surprising are the scenes where music, noise and visuals combine to give the viewer a truly visceral experience.
The characters are a bit of a tricky subject in Barefoot Gen, as they are generally taken from the people that nakazawa met before, during and after the bombing, whilst Gen himself is Nakazawa as a child. Granted, there is obviously a degree of artisitic license with both the design and the portrayal, however this in no way diminishes their impact of the overall movie. Because of this things like character developmentand interaction are difficult to consider, especially given the fact that this is mainly a factual account, and in the absence of of evidence to the contrary, I prefer to think of the characters as "real" - at least, for this movie.
Watching this movie is a truly harrowing experience. There is no real way to "enjoy" this in normal terms, especially given its history and content. Very few movies, especially animated ones, are able to convey the level of emotional impact that Barefoot Gen achieves, and only Grave of the Fireflies or Ushiro no Shoumen Daare can be considered equal in terms of content and viewing experience (although the former deals with the aftermath of the firebombing of Kobe, and is semi-autobiographical in nature, and the latter is more of a historical fiction).
Although there are similarities between those two movies and Barefoot Gen, there are major differences as well. It is extremely difficult to compare any other anime or manga to Barefoot Gen as no other work is taken directly from real life. If you decide to watch Barefoot Gen then you cannot compare it in any way to shows like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Death Note, Akira, Code Geass, or any other popular movie or series. You cannot use normal standards to judge this movie.
In all honesty, Barefoot Gen isn't something to enjoy, even though it ends on a hopfeul note. This is a movie to be experienced, as it is the story of a boy who has literally seen hell. It is both a lesson and a warning for future generations of the true horror of nuclear and atomic weapons, and I urge everyone, whether you're a fan of anime and manga or not, to read the books and watch the movie.
Barefoot Gen is in my opinion one of the most underrated anime on this site. In the West, it is completely overshadowed by Grave of the Firefly, which is unfortunate because in many ways Gen is actually the superior film! In this review I will be not only looking at Gen, but comparing it to its much more famous and critically lauded brother Grave of the Firefly (Hotaru no Haka).
Pacing and characters:
Barefoot Gen opens by showing the main character, a little boy named Gen, along with his family. Gen has a little brother named Shinji, an elder sister Eiko, a father, and a
mother who is currently in the late stages of pregnancy. Barefoot Gen shows the family trying to keep their chins up and appreciate the small joys left in life despite the food shortages and the looming danger of air raids. By spending more time showing happiness and cheerful character interactions than Firefly, it makes the impact of the tragedy even greater when it inevitably occurs. Barefoot Gen is roughly the same length as Firefly, but it feels much shorter, even though it is far more brutal in its portrayal of war. Even people that prefer Firefly over Gen would have to concede that Gen is a better paced film. It is long enough to feel for the characters and connect with them so that the tragedy is painful and horrible, but not so long that it overextends its narrative and drags.
The character Gen is based off the writer of the original Gen manga, who survived Hiroshima as a young boy. Some people criticize the realism of the characters because Gen stays so upbeat in the face of unimaginable tragedy, but that is exactly what he needed to do in order to survive. He wasn't able to stop and fully process the loss of his family when he was desperately looking for food to keep himself and his mother alive. This isn't unrealistic, but rather the human survival instinct kicking in. If Gen had pulled a Shinji Ikari, he wouldn't have lived to later tell this story to us! Gen's father is based loosely off the author's real father and is unique in that he dares to criticize the Japanese government for not surrendering when in 1945, it was clear Japan couldn't possibly win. The father character is strongly against the war, which reflects the attitude of both the author and his real life father. Later Gen meets another little boy named Ryota who I admit brings some tone jarring slapstick out of nowhere. The only area where haters of this film may have a point is that Barefoot Gen does suffer from some SERIOUS mood whiplash. It shows one of the most brutal sequences ever animated in one scene, but has Ryota and Gen roughhousing and laughing about 10 minutes later.
Animation is a visual medium of storytelling, so it is better to show than to tell. Barefoot Gen shows the horrors of nuclear war better than perhaps any other movie ever made be it animated or no. I'm serious! The horrible brutality of melting eyeballs, scorched flesh, maggot infested wounds, and all the stages of radiation poisoning are captured accurately and with an unflinching eye. Barefoot Gen is NOT a good movie to show little kids. The art style is curiously juvenile in order to create a sharp contrast between Gen's innocence and the horrors of war. Although I see what Barefoot Gen was trying to do, this art style choice may not work for everyone to portray such scenes of carnage. Grave of the Fireflies is a much more polished, larger budget, and better animated film. However, I give Gen the edge here for daring to show in full detail just why nuclear weapons are so horrible and morally unacceptable.
Themes and Politics:
Roger Ebert said that Grave of the Fireflies was one of the greatest anti-war films ever made, and since then American critics have viewed it in that light. However, the writer of Firefly explicitly stated it is NOT an anti-war film saying war in general is bad. He merely wished to show Japanese children the suffering and injustice that Americans did to Japan. He also wished Firefly to act as an Aesop's fable to tell the unruly Japanese youth of the 1980s to obey and tolerate adults. Japanese audiences were supposed to take away the message that if Seta had put up with his bitchy aunt, he and his sister would have lived. That was the main moral of the movie! Rather than an "anti war" masterpiece, Firefly is a preachy "Obey adults you little brats" film that is extremely anti-American and perpetuates the narrative that Japan was entirely a victim during WW2 to a new generation of Japanese youth. Barefoot Gen on the other hand actually IS an anti-war film that wishes to show that war is suffering, death, and evil. Barefoot Gen shows a balanced view of the war and shows both the innocence of Japanese civilians and the callous cruelty of the Japanese WW2 government, who is just as criticized in the film as the Americans. The reason Firefly lays all blame on the Americans and never says a word of condemnation for the WW2 Japan government is because the writer of Firefly had no qualms with the WW2 Japanese government, unlike the writer of Gen. In terms of themes and politics, it was GEN that deserved our praise all along, NOT Firefly!
The last major difference between Gen and Firefly is how they choose to end. Firefly ends with soul crushing depression and all the characters dying. The beautiful Japanese Empire has been crushed and all good is gone from the world. The characters are all dead, so they don't have to learn how to move on and rebuild towards a better future. Gen despite the film's extreme brutality ends with a note of optimism. Wheat is shown growing even though American scientists predicted that nothing would grow in Hiroshima for 70 years. The character Gen must learn like all those who survived the war to deal with the extreme loss and tragedy, as well as build a better Japan from the ashes. Gen doesn't just lament the beauty that was lost, but asks for such carnage to not be repeated again while working to build a better world. The endings are different because the 2 films have VASTLY different messages, but I must say I strongly prefer Gen's ending.
Gen may have a few minor flaws, such as a juvenile animation style that some may feel clashes with its explicit portrayal of brutality. Others may dislike the tone shift between the lighthearted scenes and tragic scenes that occur very shortly one after another. I however, think that Gen is an overlooked gem that deserves FAR more praise than it receives in the West. All the praise that was showered on Grave of the Firefly in my opinion should rightfully go to Gen, the superior film!
Note: In this review I will be talking about both Barefoot Gen (1983) & Barefoot Gen 2 (1986) in every respect even though there is a 3 year gap in production between the two movies I don’t really feel there is much of a difference with anything in particular. In many ways both films would have worked better a single release. This would have made more sense as the two movies address two different aspects of the given situation. Also considering the subject matter is quite difficult for many to digest I actually feel having the two films separate has hindered the second movie.
animation to tell this somewot autobiographical account of the Hiroshima disaster personifies the unique tool animation can be to tell a story. Although stories like this which are based on true events will always be the subject of some sort of criticism I have to commend Keiji Nakazawa for putting this out there in such a vivid way that still to this very day many similar titles based on WWII do not accomplish even outside the realm of animation.
The story begins on August 4, 1945, in Hiroshima with the everyday life of Gen, his younger brother Shinji, their father Daikichi, elder sister Eiko, and pregnant mother Kimie, during the final days of World War II.
The beginning of the plot mainly focuses on the Nakaoka family's struggle to afford food ration cards and other items due to food shortages throughout Japan. Like the other residents, the family wonders why Hiroshima has so far suffered only minor damage; when American B-29 Superfortress bombers have fire-bombed nearly all of Japan's major cities.
A few days later, on his way to school, Gen takes notice of a passing B-29 aircraft and discusses with a female friend how odd it is that a single B-29 would be passing over the city with no air raid siren warning beforehand, as was often common. Soon after this suddenly his father, sister, and brother watch their surroundings as they are all blinded by a flash of white light which is then closely followed by the tremendous explosion.
This is the moment Gen’s life changed forever.
Due to me NOT giving spoilers what I will summarize is that what follows is the tale of a young boy and his “cough” family’s ordeal through one of the greatest tragedies the world has even known and how he and the people around him strive to survive in the aftermath left by the atomic blast.
Barefoot Gen 2 takes place 3 years after the end of the original movie, with Gen trying to cope during the early post-war reconstruction of Japan. While the first movie focused more on the immediate affects of the atomic bombing, the second film focuses more on the long-term problems that faced the survivors, such as the devastated economy and national infrastructure, and lingering affects of the bomb's radiation.
The ONE and only thing I do not like about the story is that it focuses so much on the actual attack dealt by the Americans, viewers who do not know their WWII history may see this film as a horrible injustice to the Japanese and there are no mentions of Japans previous participation in the war which includes the slaughter of the Chinese during the invasion of china or of the attack on Americans at pearl harbor – which I must STRESS is not me hinting in any way that they had this coming to them…I’m just saying if you do not know the entire history of WWII this film does not educate anything relative and can be seen as propaganda which I feel is not the intention of these movies at all……but hey I’m goin off on one here…you get the point.
Animation style is a bit cartoonier than the typical Japanese animation style, especially with the character designs. I do however feel this animation style made things more clear, simple and vivid, particularly with the atomic blast sequence and the various human transformations (goddamn) – this was a truly horrifying but mesmerizing experience which I must again commend Keiji Nakazawa’s graphic and barebone depiction of the actual atrocities he witnessed. It really does feel like a living nightmare at these points.
Landscapes and background designs where simple yet decent considering this title is over 25 years old I was not expecting all that much anyway but overall everything was animated quite well no real complaints.
I have watched these titles twice. The first viewing was of BFG1 and it was in English dub which in my opinion was very good. BFG2 has no dub so I watched them both again with the original Japanese language and English subs. Here again I found no problems with voice actors or music. The only real downside was some of the actual sound affects felt dated and come off sounding sharp, especially during the explosion sequence. Other than that I have to say the overall language interaction and dialogue was good across the board.
Well I did like the characters and I did feel they exhibited a lot of real emotions but really the main character Gen himself to me was just a little bit unbelievable, why I say so is he just is so damn positive and optimistic in the face of the most horrifying events….he did have his moments of sadness but really they did not last very long before he was up and running again.
Now I’m not stupid he was ultimately the main plot device and the spirit of encouragement for both movies which was undoubtedly essential to these movies. Without someone like Gen in the movies this would have been the saddest and most depressing anime of all time…I also understand he was a kid and maybe could not fully process the full extent of the situation but I still just felt he was just a little bit unrealistic in certain situations.
The other characters around Gen seemed more believable…a lot of them where suffering and in some sort of agony but I liked the fact the story showed characters of all ages and how they where affected by the situation. Considering the situation however the character development could have been taken advantage of a bit more in my opinion…then again I may be asking for too much.
How can anyone use the word enjoyment for something like this…what I can say is i appreciate and applaud the author for having the guts to create something many people today may be totally oblivious to and to do so in such a way that is rarely seen but at the same time to not dwell totally on the pain of the disaster but also the spirit of perseverance and determination. The level of despair these titles reach is truly not enjoyable but at the same time one must remember these events actually happened, maybe not all to one person but to a whole range of people and for that I feel this is something as an anime fan, a historian…hell even as a human being should be watched at least once….but be warned this is not for the fain hearted!
It really irritates me this title is often compared as the weaker version of Grave of the fireflies. Yes they are similar and yes GOTF has better animation but I feel GOTF was more of a stand alone story on a smaller scale. These movies however have a much clearer, wider and dreadful message. It takes a bold but realistic look at how nuclear weapons have changed a whole nation’s perspective on life and ultimately ended WWII itself.
It’s a damn shame this title is not more well know to the masses and is often just passed off as some manipulative emotional guilt trip movie.
These movies do serve a purpose and send both a necessary negative and positive message but most of all it is something no viewer has ever forgotten watching…even if they swear to never ever watch it again and yes many many people will not wwhich is sadly understandable.
"The bombing of Hiroshima, as seen through the eyes of a boy."
Barefoot Gen: 9/10
A line from Apocalypse Now kept creeping into my head whilst I watched this - "The horror, the horror..."
Barefoot Gen more than lived up to my expectations. I'd read before watching that it's very similar to Grave of the Fireflies, it being a story about children trying to survive during World War 2, and they are indeed worthy of being spoken of in the same breath. There aren't many films, live-action or animated, that have the sort of impact these films do on viewers.
Barefoot Gen is a story told from
the viewpoint of a child; the story being about the Hiroshima bombing. Instead of rushing into the bombing, time was spent showing the viewer Gen's (Gen is the main character) family and how they struggled to survive with little to no food. Gen spent a lot time with his younger brother during the early section, trying to find food for their pregnant mother and, basically, acting like kids do. This early pre-bombing section was good because it allowed viewers to become emotionally attached to the family and made them want the family to survive.
And then, suddenly, the atomic bomb hits and, in graphic detail, you see people falling apart and getting burnt alive. Eye sockets fall out, skin melts...it wasn't easy to watch. Gen then rushed back to home to find his father, brother and sister all stuck under their house, which had collapsed due to the blast. After Gen and his mother couldn't lift what their family was stuck under, he had to pull his mother away from their family in order to save themselves due to the fire spreading, but he first made a teary-eyed promise with his father: his father made him make a non-verbal promise that he'd protect his mother and the child growing inside her.
It continued like that until the end. It was realistic to the point of being painful to watch. Animation or not, it was hard not to see what was happening as real. Barefoot Gen was based on the real life story of the author, so it'd be wrong to view as "just a silly cartoon" because of the lack of real actors, but it's rare for animation to have that sort of impact on me.
There were a few things I wasn't impressed with, such as the semi-annoying voice actor of Gen, how easily Gen's brother was allowed to be replaced by someone who looked like him and how well Gen and his mother handled losing their loved ones, but the good outweighed the bad. It was a wonderful film, and I highly recommend it to anyone with interest in the more realistic side of anime.
Note: I'm going to include a little extra, going into some detail about the sequel. It's too short to post as a review on its own so I decided to add it to my review of the first film.
Barefoot Gen 2: 7.5/10
Barefoot Gen 2 continues the story three years after the end of the first film. Japan has started to return to normal but there are still problems like starvation and people being homeless. The bombing resulted in a lot of kids having their entire families killed, and that obviously meant there were a lot of kids living on the street, unable to even get education because people need to pay to go to school in Japan. The story in this film focuses on a group of kids Gen befriends and shows how, even after the bombings had stopped, Japan was still far from repaired.
In all honesty, there didn't need to be a sequel made. The first film covered everything important and only the left the aftermath, which was never going to be as powerful as what came before, to be shown. The film had potential but a lot of the potentially interesting aspects, such as how people with burns from the atomic bomb were treated like monsters, were never looked into too deeply. Although I didn't feel the film was bad, I felt it wasn't made with the same amount of effort as the first and, quite simply, the story was weaker due to it not having to cover anything as horrific as what was shown in the first film.
A decent sequel, and a very nice DVD extra (both Barefoot films are on the same disc), but not worthy of a high rating.
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