U.S. filmmaker shows a Japan that has forgotten its A-bomb survivors

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Japan “clearly wants to move forward without looking back” once all the atomic bomb survivors are gone, the director of a new documentary film on the hibakusha said.

Steven Okazaki was speaking recently in New York at a screening of his film “White Light/Black Rain,” alongside a hibakusha and a crew member of the Enola Gay, which dropped the Hiroshima bomb.

“People should worry about the direction Japan is taking,” the award-winning filmmaker said, when asked to comment on Tokyo’s treatment of Japan’s militaristic past and its victims.

Okazaki, born in California in 1952, first met hibakusha 25 years ago in San Francisco. He said he had the idea for a long time to make a film that placed the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the context of World War II, but stayed away from the moral issues and current politics.

“Whenever you see the words Hiroshima and Nagasaki, people start arguing with each other,” the director said. “These arguments go nowhere. My goal was, ‘Let’s just hear the survivors’ stories.’ ”

Okazaki’s documentary, which recently premiered in New York, differs from previous works on the hibakusha by covering not just the blast but also how the Japanese government and society neglected and ostracized the survivors, deepening their suffering.

Okazaki said he found a woman living outside Tokyo who survived being near the hypocenter in Nagasaki. However, she refused to be in the film, saying that revealing herself as a hibakusha might damage her and her family’s lives. Korean residents in Japan experience prejudice and no Korean hibakusha wanted to be in the film, he said.

Okazaki could only find one Korean survivor who agreed to be in the film, a South Korean who happened to be visiting Japan to discuss medical reparations issues.

“I felt that there was no way we should cut” the Koreans from the film, he said. He said he decided “we will have at least one Korean voice. I don’t think it would be an honest film if there wasn’t a Korean voice.”

Shigeko Sasamori, 75, who survived the Hiroshima bombing at age 13, appeared alongside Okazaki at several of the New York screenings.

“Steve’s film is very, very good education for everybody, not just to America and Japan, but all over the world,” she told one audience.

“Everyone has to realize . . . how horrible war is. Everybody has a responsibility to do something, and this kind of occasion is wonderful.”

The documentary, which centers around 14 hibakusha and four Americans involved in the atomic bomb project, also shows contemporary Japanese society.

However, Okazaki said he stopped filming young Japanese after asking about 10 youths on the streets of Tokyo if they knew what had happened on Aug. 6, 1945, and none of them could answer him.

The director said he was shocked by their ignorance and blamed Japan for not teaching history properly.

Japan teaches about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki “in a very controlled way” and treats them almost like “a separate incident from the rest of World War II,” Okazaki said. “What we tried to do in this film was to connect them.”