When it comes to animating war and tragedy, the new film Hibakusha has a number of noteworthy predecessors. Certainly Persepolis — nominated for an Academy Award in 2007 — brought new depth and gravity to the animation world. Based on Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel about her life during the Iranian Revolution, the feature length film received high critical praise as well as multiple awards. However, it did not win the Academy Award, losing to Disney’s Ratatouille. The next year was marked by release of Waltz with Bashir, about Ari Folman’s experiences as an Israel Defense Forces soldier during the Lebanon war. That film was also nominated for an Academy Award, in the Foreign Language Film category.
Channel APA’s Steve Nguyen and Choz Belen have taken on another wartime subject for their animated short, Hibakusha. Based on the real life experiences of Kaz Suyeishi, president of the American Society of Hiroshima-Nagasaki A-Bomb Survivors, the film focuses on some of the harrowing ordeals Kaz survived after the Enola Gay dropped its cargo.
Implementing computer animation in a sort of still animaphotography, Hibakusha tells stories that otherwise would be lost. A force in the survivor community, the 82-years-old Suyeishi seizes on any opportunity she can to remind people what happened. In essence, she’s putting a human face on an act of inhumanity.
Suyeishi appears in animated form in the film, and again in a clip of a live interview at the end. The details of her ordeal are difficult to hear, but more importantly, Suyeishi keeps the voices alive of the over 200,000 Japanese that died, and the many more who survived the after-effects of the bombs. In 2010, the Japanese Ministry of Health estimated that 227,000 survivors were still living. That year, Tsutomu Yamaguchi, the only official survivor of both atomic bombs, died of stomach cancer.
While some of the wounds have scarred over, physical, mental, and other intangible injuries persist for a lifetime. That is why it’s crucial for Suyeishi tell her story. Successful in reminding people of the insanity of war as well as serving as a history primer about the bombings, Hibakusha will likely inspire more dialogue and exploration of what really happened.