published in Empire No.69, Sydney
Movies 1 + 2
Based on the noted manga by Keiji Nakazawa which chronicles his childhood experiences of surviving the atomic bomb drop on Hiroshima, Barefoot Gen is a sobering and even-handed reflection on the personal tragedy and unforgiving reality which, by inference, would have affected thousands of Japanese at the time. This anime based on the manga remains largely true to the straight-forward journalistic tone of Nakazawa's story.
No less an emotional experience because of this, Barefoot Gen is best appreciated as a personal testament to survival rather than a triumphant fantasy of heroic struggle. It never misses the smaller details of how thrilling it can be to simply be alive. Barefoot Gen demonstrates this powerfully in its charting of the trials and tribulations suffered by Gen and his family. Starting only a few weeks before the fateful day of August 6th 1945, we witness through the eyes of 10 year old Gen the harshness of life which gripped Japan as it drove headlong into a futile battle. Gen's father is a pacifist opposed to the war, and the family are marked as unpatriotic. Yet the resilience of Gen's father, the compassion of his mother (ready to deliver their third child) and the prickly liveliness of his 5 year old brother Shinji indicate that this family has bonded in ways that gives them hope to live through the war and beyond.
Unfortunately, the family as a whole will not endure the atomic blast and its horrible aftermath. However Gen has clearly digested the positive influence of his familial support, and it becomes the prime force in urging him ever onwards to overcome all odds and survive. Tragedy becomes commonplace throughout Barefoot Gen (and its sequel), but despite its emotional pull, it manages to keep its spirits raised, making it a moving anti-war statement as well as reserved celebration of life.