In America, there are certain things that we sort of compartmentalize in order to maintain our dignity. Certainly the internment camps of World War II serve as an example. Slavery is another. Even now, just calling an Armenian slaughter a genocide is no-go politically because we don’t want to make our friends mad. Without question, though, one of the great black marks on American righteousness is the use of two atomic bombs on civilian populations to end World War II. Well-meaning folks can debate the necessity of dropping the bombs. But, without question, the choice marked an absolute slaughter of many innocent people who’s only crime was being a Japanese citizen. WHITE LIGHT / BLACK RAIN is a documentary about the bombs and the survivors.


I watched WHITE LIGHT / BLACK RAIN: THE DESTRUCTION OF HIROSHIMA AND NAGASAKI (2007) on 4.25.15. It was my first viewing of the film.

This is not an easy documentary to watch. Director Steven Okazaki doesn’t hold back in showing photos, videos, and some brutal accounts of the destruction done by the atomic bombs dropped by the United States on Japan at the end of World War II. The film is about the survivors, and the message is clear: Don’t let this happen again.

The film opens in modern Hiroshima. Nobody can remember what happened on August 6, 1945. By contrast, how many Americans on the street would know the date December 7, 1941? There have been enough ‘man on the street’ episodes of late night television to know that the average person wandering a tourist area don’t know anything about history. But, once again, Okazaki is making a clear point: it is easy to forget atrocity, even in the place where it happened.

This is a documentary which teaches plenty as well. For example, I did not know that mid July 1945 saw the first atom bomb test in New Mexico. Only three weeks passed before the drop on Hiroshima. Three days later, the US dropped the second bomb on Nagasaki. It is clear that nobody knew what would happen as a result. In a grotesque way, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were an experiment. One survivor in the film refers to the fact that those later tested by American military felt like guinea pigs who were examined but not treated.

Joseph Grew, Ambassador to Japan at the time, is quoted in the film sayin “Their weapons are modern, their thinking is 2000 years out of date.” We always say that history repeats itself, and yet it still comes as a surprise that the current war against extremists in the Middle East uses identical rhetoric in modern times. Perhaps more tellingly, the ‘just following orders’ comments by those Americans who were involved in the missions to drop the bombs sounds no more or less villainous than the Japanese soldiers’ tales. Once again proving that wars are fought by men who aren’t all that different from each other in the name of ideologues of varying levels of good and evil.

One Nagasaki survivor notes that the city housed the biggest Christian church in Asia. There was much confusion from the survivors as they tried to determine how God could allow such a thing to happen.

These sorts of first hand accounts are just brutal. We hear of people listening to family members die. We hear of a woman carrying around a baby with no head. We hear of melting skin. This is juxtaposed by the Americans on the plane which dropped the bomb talking about doing so with a clear conscious. If there is a lack of fairness in the filmmaking, it is this juxtaposition which puts the American soldiers accounts so close to the on-the-ground accounts. We learn late in the film about the nuance of the Americans’ point of view, but the section of the film dealing with the day of the bomb has too much anger (justifiably to be sure) to deal in nuance.

The pride of the Japanese people is seen throughout. One talks about how important it is that the Americans wrote that the Japanese can not have a navy or army; and how vital a part of their constitution that is. One talks about the immense guilt of talking her family into moving back to Nagasaki, only to see them all die of variations of radiation poisoning. She holds herself accountable for their deaths. There is no way to watch this film with a light heart, it is very hard to see the silver lining.

But, despite this, WHITE LIGHT/BLACK RAIN is an immensely watchable documentary with fascinating subjects. It is enlightening, powerful, heart-wrenching, and important. It is one worth seeing.



(In a documentary, effect replaces acting. It measures how well the filmmakers were able to sell their message).


FINAL SCORE: 7.5 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on April 25, 2015.

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