Stephen reviews: Barefoot Gen 2 (1986)

Barefoot Gen 2 [はだしのゲン2, Hadashi no Gen 2] (1986)

Starring Issei Miyazaki, Masaki Kōda, Kei Nakamura, Takami Aoyama, Yoshie Shimamura

Directed by Toshio Hirata & Akio Sakai


A sequel can be a bit tricky to review. It will inevitably spoil some parts of the original, otherwise you just can’t say anything about it. So, as much as I usually try to avoid spoilers, I’ll just have to accept it here and tell you who managed to live through the first film. Barefoot Gen 2 takes place three years after the destruction of Hiroshima, and Gen now lives with his mother and adoptive brother Ryuta. Three years hasn’t been nearly enough time to repair the damage though, and the three of them live in a shanty town pulled together from the rubble, struggling to find any way they can to make a living. When selling scrap metal scrounged from the ruins isn’t enough, Gen isn’t above resorting to theft on occasion.

There is no grand moral dilemma over the criminal acts. They are living in impossible conditions, and they act out of desperation, doing whatever they must to survive. Another desperate moment is early in the movie when Gen and Ryuta climb the wreckage of a tall building, little more than a ruined framework now, in order to find bird nests and eat the eggs. It’s a strangely lighthearted scene as the boys laugh and joke and play atop a building that looks like it might collapse at any moment. But the joyful feel of the scene is a thin mask over the harsh lives they lead. They are hungry enough that they simply eat the eggs raw on the spot, and when the eggs are gone Ryuta laments, “I sometimes want to eat till I can’t anymore.” The film has that same mix of sadness and goofy antics that the first film had, but without the heavy atmosphere of imminent doom to make it feel out of place.

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