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) →

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