22 January 2015

Remembering the Bomb: Promotional Materials for 'Hachigatsu no Kyoushikyoku' and 'Blast from the Past'

As the actual events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki receded in time, each new generation grappled with the memory and reconciliation of the past. Hachigatsu no Kyoushikyoku (also known Hachigatsu no Rapusodi) was released under the title Rapsodia en Agosto in Spain in 1991 or 1992 (the film premiered in Japan and most countries in 1991). A series of lobby cards were distributed by the production company as advertisements to display in theatres that were showing the film. One card in particular emphasises a key theme of the film, which is the complex relationship between three generations of a Japanese family: grandmother Kane, who is a Nagasaki hibakusha, or bomb survivor, her children (who are now middle aged adults), and her grandchildren.

01 January 2015

Making the Bomb: Promotional Materials for 'Taiyo wo Nusunda Otoko' and 'The Manhattan Project'

While some of the earlier atomic bomb films are on a theme of fear, as nuclear weapons expanded beyond the USA and USSR several films turned to the theme of proliferation. In this essay, we’ll take a quick look at how one Japanese film, Taiyo wo Nusunda Otoko, and one American film, The Manhattan Project, on this theme were promoted. Both feature an individual who builds their own atomic bomb. Turning first to the Japanese film, below is a small poster issued by the production company, Kitty Films, in 1979 upon the release of Taiyo in Japan. Note what appears to be a quote at the bottom from actor Kenji Sawada (who plays the bomb builder Makoto Kido) that says: 'Even in Japan there is a man making an atomic bomb!’

28 December 2014

Loving the Bomb: Promotional Materials for 'Dr. Strangelove'

Reflecting on the way that Japanese bomb film Ikimono no Kiroku portrayed the bomb raises the question of whether Kurosawa successfully challenged social denial about the bomb. Even though there are far more such weapons today and they are much more destructive than those of the 1950s, perhaps we are still in denial. Is there any fear and anxiety about this problem today, or have we, as Kubrick suggests, 'learned how to stop worrying and love the bomb?’ Like Kurosawa, although from a completely different, more irreverent, even sardonic viewpoint, Dr Strangelove also looks at the theme of sanity and insanity related to the bomb. Kubrick focuses on a psychotic general who launches a nuclear strike on the Soviet Union to protect his ‘precious bodily fluids.’ By looking at a two of the promotional materials for Dr Strangelove, we can see that the focus began to drift away from the message and more toward cinematic elements.

26 December 2014

Fearing the Bomb: Promotional Materials for ‘Ikimono no Kiroku'

One of the earliest Japanese atomic bomb related films is Ikimono no Kiroku. It’s about a wealthy industrialist, Nakajima (Toshiro Mifune), who seeks to escape the threat of radioactive fallout from South Pacific nuclear weapons testing by moving his complacent and reluctant family to Brazil, initiating a struggle that ultimately brings tragedy. The film was produced by Toho, one of the largest movie studios in Japan. Like many movie studios, Toho produced promotional materials to advertise its films, and here I'd like to look at some of those materials.

06 August 2012

Commemorating Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Every August brings the anniversaries of the American atomic bombing of two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombings ushered in the "atomic age," which saw the development of ever more powerful weapons of mass destruction; it also began the Cold War, in which the United States of America and the Soviet Union squared off with their massive nuclear arsenals, at times coming to the brink of nuclear warfare. Today, many states possess and test nuclear weapons, and others are attempting to develop them. Given the current turbulent military and political climate of the world, with Americans once again marching toward global warfare, perhaps it would be prudent for everyone to step back and join Japan's remembrance, not only as a national event but as a grave warning to humanity about the destructive power of nuclear weapons.

27 May 2012

American Media Culture in the Atomic Age

After nearly four of decades of Cold War conflict, accompanied by apathy and acceptance of the general population, the ‘no-nukes’ movement finally arose in the early 1980s to protest the ongoing threat of nuclear conflagration. Or so goes the pious orthodoxy that Margot A. Henriksen seeks to problematize in Dr Strangelove's America: Society and Culture in the Atomic Age (University of California Press, 1997), a cultural history of the Cold War years in America. On the contrary, she postulates that a long-standing resistance to nuclear weapons and warfare is evident in a ‘culture of dissent’ born with the first blast of the atomic bomb during World War II, and that this wide-ranging dissent is found in all walks of society, but primarily in works of film, art, music, television and literature during the period from the mid-1940s to the late 1970s, preceding the no-nukes movement. The American culture of dissent challenged ‘the dominant culture of consensus and its vision of a new order of atomic security, defense, and prosperity.’ Henriksen’s goal in pursuing this legacy is to highlight ‘the changed forms of cultural expression which challenged the serenity and order of the atomic consensus with a new cultural chaos that mirrored the disruption of matter achieved in the technology of the atomic bomb.’ Her work seems primarily geared toward refuting the consensus historians who have claimed that Americans were generally apathetic or disinterested in the threat posed by the atomic bomb until president Ronald Reagan re-invigorated the Cold War in the early 1980s.

17 April 2012

Books on Films on the Bomb

The development and deployment of the atomic bomb by the Americans during World War II ushered in what is commonly referred to as the 'nuclear age.' A growing shelf of books continues to be written about the various repercussions of the bomb, ranging from the socio-political to the cultural and psychological. Several recent titles explore this legacy, including Filling the Hole in the Nuclear Future (Lexington Books, 2010) and The Dragon's Tail: Americans Face the Atomic Age (University of Massachusetts Press, 2009) both by Robert A. Jacobs, After Hiroshima: The United States, Race and Nuclear Weapons in Asia, 1945-1965 by Matthew Jones (Cambridge University Press, 2010), Screening Enlightenment: Hollywood and the Cultural Reconstruction of Defeated Japan by Hiroshi Kitamura (Cornell Univ Press, 2010), and Atomic Tragedy: Henry L. Stimson and the Decision to Use the Bomb Against Japan by Sean L. Malloy (Cornell University Press, 2008). While many of these books are about the historical and political issues related to nuclear weapons, Filling the Hole in the Nuclear Future focuses on how art and popular culture, including cinema, have confronted the bomb.