Part 3 – White Light, Black Rain
The rooms darkened as the lights were turned off. People fell silent. Outside, there seemed to be the possibility of a rain. Children were occupied with their table tennis game in the adjacent room. They were not be present with us in watching the upcoming movie. I took my position in a corner of the room. The projector came on, the white screen started to display images, the subtitles were switched on.
The film starts with a handheld camera going through a busy, clean, well organized streams of shops and entertainment centres somewhere in modern Japan. Flashy cars, fast trains, fashionable outfits and foods of all kinds. People were jubilant and happy. The reporter stops some young teenagers to ask a very simple question.
Reporter : What happened on August 6th, 1945 in this city?
Teenager 1 : Ummmm….I have no idea
Teenager 2 : Eeerrr…something important?
Teenager 3 : hmmmm…. (blank expression)
On August 6th and 9th, 1945, two atomic bombs vaporized 210,000 people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those who survived are called “hibakusha”–people exposed to the bomb–and there are an estimated 200,000 living today. Today, with the threat of nuclear weapons of mass destruction frighteningly real- the world’s arsenal capable of repeating the destruction at Hiroshima 400,000 times over, Oscar award-winning filmmaker Steven Okazaki revisits the bombings and shares the stories of the only people to have survived a nuclear attack.
Debuting on the 62nd anniversary of the bombings, WHITE LIGHT/BLACK RAIN provides a graphic, unflinching look at the reality of nuclear warfare through first-hand accounts of both survivors and American men who carried out the bombing missions.
KIYOKO IMORI was 11 years old at the time. She and her best friend had just arrived at school and were changing their shoes in a below ground concrete structure when the atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima. When they emerged, the school was gone and their 620 classmates were dead. They jumped into the nearby river to escape the fires that engulfed the city. Although they shared the exact same experience, Imori survived, but her friend died a week later from radiation exposure.
In addition to interviews with 14 atomic bomb survivors, many of whom have never spoken publicly before, WHITE LIGHT/BLACK RAIN spotlights four Americans intimately involved in the bombings. Okazaki interweaves rarely seen, intense archival footage and photographs, banned for 25 years after the war, with survivors’ paintings and drawings, all of which convey the devastating toll of atomic warfare in human terms.
The entire room was dumbstruck as we sat and watched the horrible images on the screen hours after the attack, many of us seeing these for the very first time. We were moved as we listened to the stories of some of the survivors. Few people in the room shed tears. Some closed their eyes. one or two stepped outside. It hasn’t rained yet.
SHIGEKO SASAMORI was 13 years old. She shielded her eyes to look at the B- 29 flying over Hiroshima, then the blast knocked her unconscious. She woke up dazed and badly burned. She found her way to a schoolyard and lay down under a tree. Unrecognizable because of her burns, she repeated her name and address over and over until her father finally found her. She came to the United States in 1955 with a group of young women known as the Hiroshima Maidens and underwent numerous plastic surgery operations.
KEIJI NAKAZAWA, 6 years old at the time, lost his father, sister and younger brother in the Hiroshima bombing. In shock, his pregnant mother gave birth to a baby girl on the day of the bombing. The infant, named Tomoko, died four months later. Later, Nakazawa told his family’s story in the epic comic book series Barefoot Gen (Hadashi no Gen), one of the most powerful literary explorations of the atomic bombing. You can read his interview here.
YASUYO TANAKA and CHIEMI OKA were 9 and 10 years old, living in a Catholic orphanage. Close friends, devote Catholics, they found each other after the blast, faced extraordinary hardship together, but managed to survive. The orphanage housed more than 20 infants, all of whom perished. In 1945, Nagasaki had the largest Catholic population in Asia and some believed that the city would not bombed by the Americans because of this. He says with great sadness and a tinge of anger, “If God did exist….”, but doesn’t complete the sentence.
SAKUE SHIMOHIRA was 10 years old. She lost her mother and brother in the Nagasaki bombing. Later, her sister committed suicide by stepping in front of a train. For ten years, Shimohira lived with a dozen other homeless survivors in a small shack in the middle of the devastated landscape, sometimes surviving by eating grass and garbage. She recalls returning to the place where her sister died, planning to kill herself too. At the last minute, she jumped aside as the train approached. “I realized there are two kinds of courage: the courage to die and the courage to live,” she says. “I decided I wanted to live.”
KATSUJI YOSHIDA, 13 at the time, remembers feeling the force of the Nagasaki blast and flying more than 100 feet through the air. One side of his face was horribly burned and disfigured. Even in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, survivors with external scars experienced cruel treatment from other more fortunate survivors. Yoshida initially retreated into the shadows, refusing to go out in public. But soon, with his mother’s love and encouragement, he worked up the courage to step outside and, today, he is a leading figure in the peace movement.
SUNAO TSUBOI was a 20-year-old university student in Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped. He notes that the art and literature students were drafted into the army first, before science majors like him. But he says he was ready to go to war, to die for his country, “to fall like petals from a flower, that was our destiny.”
SHUNTARO HIDA, a 28-year-old military doctor at the time, was a safe distance from the Hiroshima bomb. He began treating people immediately after the bombing. Later, patients who should have been getting better began dying. He says, “We didn’t know what it was. For a doctor, that’s frightening to not know what you’re treating.”
SATORU FUKAHORI 11 years old at the time, says that, even as children in Nagasaki, they knew Japan was losing the war. “Any fool could see it,” he says. “We had nothing. We needed everything.” He says that people who were exposed to the bomb became “untouchables.”
PAN YEON KIM was 8 years old. Her family, like many poor Koreans at the time, immigrated to Japan, to avoid starvation. After the Hiroshima bombing, Koreans survivors faced further prejudice and additional hardship, so her family returned to Korea. She has struggled with the Japanese government to obtain medical benefits.
ETSUKO NAGANO, 16 years old at the time, lost her brother and sister in the bombing. She says she still can’t forgive herself for convincing her family to move to Nagasaki, just weeks before the bombing.
SENJI YAMAGUCHI was 14 years old when the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. He was unconscious for 40 days. During his long hospitalization, he started a survivors’ organization to lobby the Japanese government to provide care to victims of the bombing.
SUMITERU TANIGUCHI then a 16-year-old mail carrier in Nagasaki, was about to deliver a letter when the bomb was dropped. He was badly burned on the face, arms and back. Strangely, the wounds on his back never healed and he lives with perpetual pain. He says, “I’ve shown you my wounds, because I want you to know this can’t happen again.
Throughout the movie, His Holiness Devamrita Swami shared some of his views in short sentences for us to understand the full impact. the victims went through. He also recollected the beginning of the movie where the new generation of Japanese citizens, in the very city that the bomb was dropped, could not remember what had happened. He said, in today’s age, no matter how much suffering people go through, they are forgetful of their sad situation.
“The dropping of the atomic bombs on these 2 Japanese cities, are considered as the highest of human disasters. And governments are trying all their best to avoid another round of such disasters. But do you know and how many people out there do you think realize what actually is the greatest of all disasters? “, he questioned us with much graveness.
He mentioned the number of hours, efforts, patience, education, training, testings, money, resources and people that went into the making of the atomic bombs. Just to kill their fellow human beings. “One should invest their energy properly in the human form of life. One must work in Krishna Consciousness without bondage. One can see here, the implication of fruitive activity. We must start now to acknowledge the presence and controlling power of Krishna“.
As the lecture reached its peak, he said, “But today, the people’s religion is – Work and Buy. Bhakti deals with the central engine of fruitive activity. The entire world as we see it today is encapsulated by the desire and actions to achieve. Because of our own self interest of gain and safety, we forget and even choose not to serve Krishna“.
As the first part of the session came to an end, he reminded all of us, “Krishna Consciousness is not a folklore or mythology. Actually, it’s material life which is a folklore and mythology!”.
After a very short question round, he prepared to leave. Many sat on the ground stunned by what they had seen on the screen and digesting the lecture on the importance of all humans to progress further and further in Krishna Consciousness, to save the world, bring about real happiness and avoid the greatest disaster of all – losing the human form of life.
Next article coming up – Part 4 – Entering the brahmachari ashram
References (Images and content of the bombings) :
– HBO website