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.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Barefoot Gen 2 (1986) →

Stephen reviews: Barefoot Gen (1983)

Barefoot Gen [はだしのゲン, Hadashi no Gen]

Starring Issei Miyazaki, Masaki Kōda, Seiko Nakano, Takao Inoue, Yoshie Shimamura

Directed by Mori Masaki


It may be a cliché to say, “one death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic,” but any good storyteller knows that to tell a huge tragedy, you need to focus on the small stuff. And there aren’t many tragedies larger than the dropping of the atomic bomb. Barefoot Gen tells the story of Hiroshima and the hundreds of thousands of people killed by the first atomic bomb, and as with any good tragedy, the movie focuses on the small stuff. It deals with the statistics and the massive scale of destruction, but mostly it is the tale of a young boy named Gen and his family during the final days of World War II.

We expect to have the opening scenes showing the innocent lives soon to be lost, but this film does more than that. It shows great details of daily life in WWII era Japan, and really gets into the lives of Gen’s family. The strict rationing in effect during the war has left little food for them, and Gen’s mother is pregnant. She eats what little food they have, and even though it is for the unborn child, her guilt as she watches the rest of her family go hungry is a palpable object throughout the beginning of the film. Barefoot Gen is billed as a story about the atom bomb, and while this is true it doesn’t quite do the film justice. It grabs ahold of your guts long before it gets to the bomb.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Barefoot Gen (1983) →

Stephen reviews: X (1996)

X (1996)
AKA X/1999, X: Their Destiny Was Foreordained 1999

Starring Tomokazu Seki, Ken Narita, Yūko Minaguchi, Atsuko Takahata, Junko Iwao, Tōru Furusawa, Masako Ikeda, Kazuhiko Inoue,Mami Koyama, Rica Matsumoto, Kotono Mitsuishi, Issei Miyazaki, Jōji Nakata, Yukana Nogami, Toshihiko Seki, Emi Shinohara, Hideyuki Tanaka, Kōichi Yamadera

Directed by Rintaro


No, the title X has nothing to do with the film’s rating. It is in fact rated R. There’s no sex anywhere, and the only nudity is in the incredibly creepy opening scene where the main character, Kamui, confronts his naked mother. Before Kamui can do much of anything, his mother rips open her own stomach with her bare hands and pulls out a massive sword, which she then stabs into Kamui’s stomach. And just to end the scene on a confusing note, because it wasn’t confusing enough apparently, Mommy dearest spontaneously explodes in a spray of blood and severed limbs. Things like this are why Japan has cornered the WTF market. It certainly grabs your attention, but even after watching the film I’m not sure whether that scene was a dream sequence, or literal event. It doesn’t matter much though, as there isn’t much difference between the two in this movie. People travel through dreams, and the film is filled with apocalyptic visions.

The movie is about the end of the world, and the two groups fighting over it: the Dragons of Heaven who want to preserve modern civilization, and the Dragons of Earth that want to return the world to its natural state. Each side has six members in addition to the two fortune-telling sisters that lead them, and that means there’s obviously going to be some limits on how well we get to know them. Many characters have a sort of “Hi! Bye!” feel to them, just getting enough time to show off their stuff before dying. This film is an adaptation of a comic book series, and the problem of condensing a longer story will always be present. Rintaro has learned a few things in the decade since he directed The Dagger of Kamui, though, and the pacing in X is smooth throughout the film, giving a balanced focus to as many characters as it could.

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