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Barefoot Gen Movie Review

film bombing children baby

Animation often has the curious effect of lulling me into a false sense of security. I expect that the appealing images onscreen will amuse and entertain me, but not make me think too deeply or cry. The 1955 British version of George Orwell's Animal Farm changed my perception of what an animated film could be. 1983's Barefoot Gen offers a devastating contrast to live-action films like MGM's Above and Beyond, which idealized the bombers of Hiroshima by casting cinematic icon Robert Taylor as the pilot. Artist Keiji Nakazawa was six years old when his home was destroyed by the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Miraculously, he survived, and 28 years later he published Barefoot Gen, based on his own experiences on that fateful day. Nakazawa hoped one day to develop the cartoon into a feature-length film, and at 48 he finally achieved his dream. Barefoot Gen is the powerful result. The film starts out by giving us a bit of background on World War II, then shifts to the antics of two little boys. We know what an impact the war has made on their lives; they fight over a potato before reluctantly sharing it with their mother who is expecting another baby. Because of their enormous vitality, the irrepressible children take center stage and the war seems like a distant backdrop. The impact of the bombing, however, is enormous and immediate. Familiar characters are reduced to skeletons within seconds. The collapse of Gen's world is shown in a wrenching sequence when he must decide to save himself and his expectant mother rather than die with the rest of his family. Except for the sudden loss of his hair, Gen appears to have emerged unscathed from the bombing, but the tragic aftereffects of the Hiroshima bombing are everywhere. A soldier, not realizing what has happened to him, dies in a daze right in front of Gen. Gen's frail mother gives birth to an adorable little girl, but cannot feed her. Another woman who has lost her child tries to kill the infant, but then bursts into tears and offers to nurse the baby for her. Gen forages for food, finally stumbling on an unaffected cache of rice. An orphan appears on the scene, the exact double of Gen's doomed brother. He is instantly adopted into the family and the film's lighthearted vitality returns, but with a difference. To earn money to buy milk for the baby, the children accept a disagreeable job: taking care of a former artist whose family has rejected him now that he is disabled. Simply by being children, the little boys ignite his flagging spirits and his will to live and work, but there are no Pollyanna endings in Barefoot Gen. Gen's resilience is the theme of this deeply disturbing movie, and it is highly recommended for both adults and older children (over age 12).

1983 90m/C JP D: Mamoru Shinzaki; W: Keiji Nakazawa; M: Kentaro Hada

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