Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
Steven Okazaki in Tokyo on 4th July 2007
Yet in Steven Okazaki's documentary about the atomic bombings of Japan at the end of World War II, White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Japan title: Hiroshima/Nagasaki), when a number of young people are asked about the significance of that date not one of them can provide an answer.
The ignorance of Japanese youth on this issue came as a shock to Okazaki, with the result that none of the interviewees' comments ended up on the cutting room floor.
"We got all we needed with our first eight interviews and just stopped," the 55-year-old filmmaker told The Daily Yomiuri during a recent trip to Japan to promote the movie.
Using the accounts of 14 victims of the bombings and four Americans involved in the production and dropping of the bombs, the movie conveys the awful consequences of the bombings, both at the time and in the ensuing years.
And Okazaki was aware of the danger of falling into the trap of depicting the two cities as innocent victims.
"There's a strong preference to take Hiroshima and Nagasaki and disconnect it from the rest of World War II and treat it like a separate event...Whether they were 8, 9, 10, these people were aware that they could be bombed, they did air raid practices all the time," he points out.
Okazaki is no stranger to the subject of the bombings, having made his first trip to Hiroshima more than 25 years ago and having earned an Academy Award nomination for his 2005 documentary about Hiroshima, The Mushroom Club. Yet he continues to be shocked at the discrimination suffered by the survivors, especially when he heard about a woman who was the only survivor from within a kilometer of Nagasaki's Ground Zero.
"I said, 'Do you think it's possible she's alive?'...The message came that she was in Chiba, and she said: 'Please don't contact me, my husband doesn't want anyone to know, and my own children don't know'--it seemed like she had one of the most extraordinary survival stories, but we didn't get her story," he explains.
Okazaki contrasts the attitude to the bombings in Japan with that of New Yorkers when the World Trade Center was attacked in 2001.
"Most people you meet who live in New York, or people who live around New York, or people who were out of town when 9/11 happened, talk about it as if it happened to them," he said, contrasting U.S. and Japanese ways of reacting to great national traumas.
Yet the real anger of the hibakusha--the A-bomb survivors--is not directed at other Japanese or even the United States, but at the Japanese government.
"The only time people get angry is when they start talking about the Japanese government. Many hibakusha said: 'Everything we've gotten from them, nothing has been given to us, it's because we've asked and asked and asked and begged and protested. Everything has come later, while people are dying,'" he said.
"The Americans may have dropped the bomb, but the Japanese government and, to a large part, Japanese society has continued the misery for the hibakusha," the Californian added.
Okazaki's attempts to get White Light/Black Rain shown on Japanese TV came to nothing, as he told reporters in Tokyo at the end of June.
"I was told by many people that the material would never get on Japanese television simply because it was a negative portrayal of the government," he said.
So while the film makes its TV premiere on the HBO channel in the United States on Aug. 6, Japanese audiences will have to catch it at movie theaters around the country during August, after it opens in Tokyo and Osaka on July 28.
And the good news for non-Japanese speakers in Tokyo is that the English subtitled version of White Light/Black Rain will be screened at Iwanami Hall on Aug. 12 and 26, at 6.50 p.m. Visit
www.zaziefilms.com/hiroshimanagasaki for the full schedule.