Vet documentarian Steven Okazaki’s “White Light/Black Rain” provides a concise, often powerfully unpleasant account of the atomic bomb drops on Japan that ended WWII. Extensive survivor interviews and some hard-to-watch archival footage make this an important document. Brief specialized theatrical play is possible before the pic makes its HBO debut on the Hiroshima anniversary date, Aug. 6. While the film will primarily be an educational broadcast and classroom perennial, it should also be required viewing for advocates of the “Just nuke ’em” school of conflict resolution.
After briefly sketching the historical context and development of the bomb, Okazaki speaks with U.S. military and scientific personnel who were a part of the top-secret 1945 mission.
Interviewed Japanese, who ranged in age from 3-20 at the time, tell very different stories of the blast, subsequent hurricane-force wind and enveloping fire. Many were left disfigured, lost entire families and/or developed lifelong illnesses from radiation poisoning. This section is illustrated via art made by survivors, much of it simple and childlike yet extremely disturbing, a la Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.”
But that’s nothing compared with what follows: First-person recollections of the final segment, “Aftermath,” are accompanied by horrific color archival footage of the dead, dying and hospitalized. Many children were among the latter, in such pain that some purportedly begged to be put out of their misery. Even those who survived often lived out their lives as a new form of leper, pitied but generally shunned by mainstream society.
Film’s sobering impact lets the images and witnesses’ words speak for themselves. Editing is airtight, other aspects solid.
An end title notes that world powers hold the nuclear capability to re-create Hiroshima 400,000 times over.