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Where EAST meets the Northwest

SURVIVOR. Pictured above is Koichi Wada during filming of The Last Atomic Bomb. (Photo courtesy of the Northwest Alliance for Alternative Media & Education)

From The Asian Reporter, V16, #32 (August 8, 2006), page 11.

Documentary explores legacy of atomic bombing

The Last Atomic Bomb

Directed by Robert Richter

Produced by Kathleen Sullivan

and Robert Richter

By Maileen Hamto

More than 60 years after humanity witnessed first-hand the destruction of the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, widespread nuclear proliferation among the world’s economic superpowers continues to dominate international politics.

In the film The Last Atomic Bomb, the imminent threat of another nuclear catastrophe is viewed through the life of a Nagasaki hibakusha (survivor), who is accompanied by Japanese college students dedicated to spreading the truth about the aftermath of the bombings. Informative and compelling, the film underscores the experience of young people whose lives were forever altered and families that endured lasting emotional, mental, and physical scars.

Director Robert Richter relates the story of Sakue Shimohira, who was 10 years old at the time of the bombing. Along with other Nagasaki civilians, Shimohira hid in a shelter near ground zero when the bomb exploded 60 years ago. Her emotionally wrenching experiences are interwoven with rarely seen archival footage and never-before-told accounts of what happened to her in 1945 and in subsequent years.

Many documentaries have been produced about the bombing, most from a Western perspective, expressing the guilt of the conquering Allied forces. This film documents the sorrowful yet inspirational experiences of hibakusha such as Shimohira — now age 70 — and Koichi Wada, who was 17 and working at a trolley station when the bomb dropped.

Footage of hordes cheering the U.S. victory over Japan provide a stark contrast to the destruction and loss of human life in the Pacific. Shimohira and her sister lost their mother to the bomb, and the siblings were left to live among the dreaded survivors. The film also touches on censorship of media during the Press Code period in the U.S. and Japan, and underscores the regrettable reality of discrimination against survivors by other Japanese. Because the public lacked reliable and accurate information about radiation sickness, the walking wounded in post-war Japan suffered prejudice, mistrust, and disdain among their countrymen.

Not too long after the bomb, Shimohira lost her sister to suicide. While her sister found "the courage to die," Shimohira said she found "the courage to live" and dedicate her life to abolishing nuclear weapons.

Shimohira’s accounts of health problems and encounters with prejudice are interwoven with expert testimony about the controversial U.S. decision to use the bomb. Interviewing war historians and experts, the film unveils a plausible and very disturbing view of the real motivation to drop the bombs in the summer of 1945. The film highlights the Northwest connection in the history of the atomic bomb, as it cites Richland, Washington among the U.S. communities that were at the forefront of a $2 billion research and development project to build the bomb.

Filmmakers also followed Shimohira and two college students to Paris, London, Washington, D.C., and New York, where they presented letters to Presidents George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Tony Blair, inviting the government leaders to come to Nagasaki. One of the film’s most memorable moments occurs in Paris, when Shimohira shares memories of the war with an Auschwitz survivor. Providing a peek into the burgeoning antinuclear movement, Shimohira continues her work in putting nuclear proliferation issues in front of high school and college students throughout the world, in an effort to raise awareness about the threat and terror of nuclear weapons.

At the film’s life-affirming conclusion it is clear that student Haruka has become motivated to carry on Shimohira’s nuclear abolition message to young people around the world. Her work is important: the buildup of nuclear weapons has only expanded from the Cold War to the present day. Unfazed by the needless devastation of the atomic bomb, many countries that aspire to be regarded as important players in the world stage are adamant about building a nuclear war machine.

Richter triumphs in conveying a stark message: the impact of the last atomic bomb will never be forgotten.