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.

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