HIROSHIMA – Nearly 70 years after a U.S. atomic bomb laid waste to the city of Hiroshima, the attack continues to hold an important place in the psyche of its residents.
Every year, the ceremony commemorating the Aug. 6 bombing and the people who perished is the focus of the Hiroshima summer.
But as time passes and people who experienced the bombing firsthand grow fewer, the city is faced with the challenge of relating the scope of the tragedy to younger generations.
Children these days can no longer ask their grandma or grandpa what happened on “that day.”
In a distinctly Japanese answer to this problem, parents and educators in the city have turned to anime and manga to teach kids what “the bomb that ended World War II” meant for ordinary people.
“War is bad. Why? Because people get hurt!” says 7-year-old Nanaka Ue.
In late July, Ue and dozens of her friends watched “Iwatakunchi no Obachan: Bokuwa Senso Senkenne” at a children’s recreation center in a suburb of the city. It’s an animated film showing the humanitarian cost of the 1945 bombing in the final days of World War II.
The film, whose title translates loosely as “My Friend Iwata’s Grandma: I Won’t Go to War,” is based on a children’s storybook of the same name and depicts the grandmother in her youth losing her family in the bombing.
At one point, she picks up what is left of the clothes her mother and infant sister were wearing. The fabric got stuck together in the heat of the explosion, a sign of how tightly the mother had held onto her baby as the bomb’s blast overtook them.
Even the rowdiest of the children took to their seats once the film started playing. They all watched intently as history unfolded before them, some fighting back tears.
The film carries a strong anti-war message, a striking feature in a work targeting small children. After hearing what his friend’s grandmother experienced, the narrator at the end pledges never to go to war.
Such film screenings are common at this time of year in Hiroshima, where the summer break is both a time for children to forget about the worries of schoolwork and to remember the importance of peace.
At another community center, children gathered with their parents to watch “Kuro ga ita Natsu,” or “A Summer with Kuro.” The anime is based on a children’s storybook by the late Keiji Nakazawa, best known for his semiautobiographical manga “Hadashi no Gen” (“Barefoot Gen”).
Kuro is a black kitten adopted by a girl and her younger brother living in wartime Hiroshima. The siblings and their parents manage to survive the atomic bombing and the ensuing fire, which swallowed most of the city’s wooden buildings. But they are separated from Kuro.
In the tragic finale, they find their beloved pet with heavy burns lying lifeless in an empty bomb shelter.
Saori Hiraoka said her 6-year-old daughter, Kurumi, had asked to see the anime after reading about the bombing. The mother said she felt it was important for Kurumi to learn of the attack as she and everyone else in Hiroshima had done before.
As a child, Hiraoka would listen to her grandmother, a survivor of the bombing, speak of her experience.
“All through childhood we would hear these stories. It’s something children shouldn’t forget,” she said.
Hisao Tamemasa, a community center worker who organized the “Kuro” screening, said he chose that anime specifically because he wanted parents and their children to have a conversation on the topic of war.
“It will be 70 years from the atomic bombing next year. Parents with small children today who grew up in a time of peace don’t know war,” Tamemasa said. “I wanted it to be an opportunity for both parents and children to think about war, peace and the atomic bomb and for them to have a discussion.”
Animated films “get the message across well” to children, he said. “They don’t use difficult words or expressions like dramatic films do, and they’re good catalysts for children to express their thoughts to their parents.”
Hiroshima has a rich history of anime and manga on the subject of war and peace. “Barefoot Gen,” written by Nakazawa based on his experiences living in the city leading up to and following the atomic bombing, is one of the most widely read manga in Japan.
Despite the controversy last summer over whether some of its harsh language and violent depictions are appropriate for children, the work is kept in school libraries across Japan and has been translated into 17 languages, including English, French, Spanish, Korean and Russian, according to Project Gen, a volunteer publishing group that provided the translations for the English and Russian versions.
The Hiroshima City Manga Library holds a special exhibit on manga on the subject of war and atomic bombs every summer to coincide with the anniversary of the bombing.
The city will also hold the 15th biennial Hiroshima International Animation Festival for five days starting on Aug. 21.
The festival, organized by the municipal government and the Hiroshima City Culture Foundation, was created in 1985 for the 40th anniversary of the bombing. The festival in 2012 had 2,110 films submitted from 63 countries and regions and drew 34,715 attendees, according to the festival website.
This year, 17 short animated films from 10 countries, all dealing with the subject of war and peace, are scheduled to be shown in the festival’s Animation for Peace category, carrying the filmmakers and the city’s hopes for a peaceful future.