Judge Joel Pearce says the book was better.
The art of Toshi Maruki and Ira Maruki.
Although one must wonder why Hiroshima No Pika is a necessary film, this disc does have quite a bit of value in the end.
Facts of the Case
Creating art is one of the ways of dealing with unspeakable tragedy. This is how Toshi and Ira Maruki have dealt with the horrors of Hiroshima, and this DVD set contains two films that focus on this art. The first is Hiroshima No Pika, a film version of Toshi Maruka's children's book that follows one girl's experience of the dropping of the atomic bomb. The other is Hellfire: A Journey from Hiroshima, a 1986 documentary that deals with their artwork.
The quality of Toshi Maruki's art in Hiroshima No Pika is exceptional, and this is a story that should be told to all but the youngest children. As youngsters learn about things such as death and war, exposure to these tragic truths can be powerful and meaningful for them. Hiroshima No Pika provides a vivid but gentle way of discussing the horrors of death, the reality that people do terrible things to one another. Because it is a children's story, the audience is forced to see the tragedy through innocent eyes. The film can act as a leaping-off point, words and pictures that open the door to discuss such things with children.
Still, I have to admit that I'm a little underwhelmed by Hiroshima No Pika as a film. My real question is, why bother? Hiroshima No Pika is literally a film of the book, the camera zoomed in close on the artwork while Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking) reads the story. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that parents wanting to expose their children to the reality of Hiroshima should be able to read the book to their children themselves. When is it that our society has become so frightened of books? For less than the cost of this DVD, you can pick up your own copy of the story, read it to your child, and answer his or her questions directly. The book is important enough to take the time to read it to them yourself. The film is a good showcase of the artwork in the book, but since so much of it is in close-up, it's difficult to get the full impact of Maruki's painting. It's not a bad DVD, just a redundant, unnecessary release that takes attention away from the story and the art.
As a minor side note, Hiroshima No Pika is accurate in that many of the figures are nude. The blast burned people's clothes off, and the images that the Maruka's worked from showed that. This nudity is never explicit or sexual, but some parents may be as offended by it as they are by the horrific descriptions of the dropping of the nuclear bomb.
And so, this DVD is one case in which the supplements have more value than the actual feature. Also included on the disc is the one-hour documentary on the lives and art of Toshi and Ira Maruki, most famous for their Hiroshima murals, which depict atomic war as a snapshot of hell. This is the story of two artists fighting to find a way to cope with the horrors that they witnessed. Their artwork here is grotesque and stunning, equally beautiful and horrifying. The murals they have painted have been cathartic for the survivors of the bomb, a visual representation of the ghastly reality they went through. The murals themselves look like a cross between Dante and Giger, twisted limbs and eyes peering out of a mass of bodies. The artists' describe their paintings as being about more than art. They're about the pain of life and the challenge of relationships. This is far too powerful a documentary to play second fiddle to Hiroshima No Pica. Here as well, the emphasis is on education, and the importance of showing children the truth of what has happened.
The transfers of both films are decent, displayed in their original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Hellfire: A Journey from Hiroshima is showing its age, but both are watchable and easy to understand.
There are a few other special features on the disc, including a small photo gallery. Unlike most galleries, this has explanations of what each picture is. These short explanations give the images more value, though they can't compare to the experience of seeing the full-sized murals themselves. Aside from a few biographies, the only other special feature is a list of web resources that Susan Sarandon has compiled for opposing atomic war.
To be sure, this package has strong arguments against nuclear arms. Although Hellfire: A Journey from Hiroshima is a fascinating and valuable documentary, Hiroshima No Pika is no more powerful than the book. That said, the central argument that education about the horrors of the 20th Century is essential to the world's future is dead on. Even though we don't want to expose our children to these horrors, it is only through this kind of testament and memory that the world will be protected from other such events. Check out the documentary that is here, then get a hold of the book and read it to your kids. Struggle to help them understanding these events, so they too can see that the world is a frightening and beautiful place.
Hiroshima No Pika is no replacement for the book, but Hellfire manages to redeem the whole package.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
• Hellfire: A Journey from Hiroshima Documentary
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