|1945, In Memoriam.
A few months ago was celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Japanese capitulation. Shocked by that absurd war, the Rising Sun country has always been willing to deliver a message of peace to the new generations. The world of manga has also been part of this effort, especially through two of its greatest masterpieces...
They've been dead for already 50 years... Seita and Setsuko, the two heroes of the melodramatic short story by Akiyuki Nosaka Grave of the fireflies, had only asked for one thing: being able to survive without losing their honor and their independence... Nosaka wrote that acclaimed and award-winning moving story at the end of the 60's, inspiring from his own tragic history. Isao Takahata, one of the most influent people in the Ghibli studios with Hayao Miyasaki, decided to direct an animated adaptation: a 90mn movie released in 1988, Hotaru no haka.
Central Park Media, the famous US publisher, had the --excellent-- idea to release it in the States in a subtitled version. Together with showings in several cons, it allowed the French fans to discover that masterpiece full of pain and emotion.
1945. Seita, 14, has to face the hard truth: because of a bombing from the Allies, he has lost his mother and must take care alone, his father giving no sign of life, of his young sister Setsuko (4), a cute little girl who doesn't understand very well what's happening around her -- and it's probably better like that.
As they were taken in by a distant cousin, they prefer to settle alone, in an abandoned shelter near a small lake, rather than having to endure all day long the disparaging remarks from an ultra-patriotic family. Hunger and disease will slowly weaken them. The most terrible in that tragedy is to imagine that the destiny of such nice, innocent children is inexorably locked by a merciless war. Takahara has deliberately emphasized the charm of Setsuko, just to make us cry at the end of the movie when she dies... And the splendid music by Michio Mamiya makes it still sadder...
Among the various examples of manga that denounce the atrocity of war, we can mention a recent short story drawn by Tsukasa Hôjô,the author of City hunter, which shows the love of a young girl for a future kamikazé. It was recently published as a paperback named Shounen-tachi no ita natsu. But among all those comics, the most paradoxical by its mixing between life and death, are the works from Keiji Nakazawa. He has also turned his youth into stories, through several mangas of which awkward drawing doesn't tell against the spirit. Kuroi amé ni utareté (Under the black rain) and Hadashi no Gen (Barefoot Gen) have both been adapted as animation movies. The first one, in 1984, benefited from a soundtrack by Kitarô (Queen Millenia, Silk Road), whereas the other one was awarded the Ohfuji prize in 1983 and was given a continuation in 1986. Streamline Pictures and Orion released the first movie in the USA, and it's WARMLY recommended.
The Hadashi no Gen manga was translated into French and published by Albin-Michel, under the title Mourir pour le Japon (To die for Japan). We can follow the daily life of Gen Nakaoka (i.e. Keiji Nakazawa) in Hiroshima, with his family, who must face humiliation and pain, but also all the happiness that a child can experiment. We discover the hard and severe life in Japanese big cities, described in its very details. With the famous bomb exploding at the end of the French edition (the second part is available in English), Nakazawa showed us how that even could blow up the life of thousands of people, quickly annihilating all their daily happiness and disagreements.
At the moment when neo-nazis are too often on the front page (especially on the Net), people are probably forgetting that, as long as there will be someone to remind us of our past mistakes, especially trough such popular supports as manga or animation cinema, we will keep inside us that awareness which will lead us toward the hope of complete and eternal Peace. Gen survived the bomb, Seita and his sister died from starvation, but their destinies crossed each other, as they shared together their hatred for war. Today, we pray with them and for them. Shall we never forget.
Pictures used are from Hotaru no haka, and taken from Ghibli's site.
Cyber Namida was created and designed by René-Gilles Deberdt. All rights reserved.