DVD Review: Barefoot Gen 1 & 2
By Andy McKeague
Aug 7, 2005, 8:25 GMT
It’s not a coincidence that Optimum Asia has released the double bill of the 'Barefoot Gen'
movies in the week leading up to the 60th Anniversary of the horror of the bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This pair of animated tales is definitely not for children’s enjoyment, but in saying that they were a staple showing to children in Japanese schools for many a year. They are well told and often horrific and harrowing, but then showing the aftermath of the worse bombings in our history what would you expect.
'Barefoot Gen' is the story of a family, an ordinary family that is feeling the pinch of the depression in the War years in Japan. Money and food are in short supply but the family do what they can to survive. Mum and Dad are not looked upon as being patriotic, as they have openly said a war, which ends so many lives, cannot be a good one and how true those words are. They earn what they can from making clogs and doing sewing and selling scrap and such but Mum is a little fragile as she is heavily pregnant with the family’s latest bundle. Constant air raid sirens through out the day and night can’t be helping either.
Gen and his brother Shiji are very much the children, not understanding fully the plight that their family are in and always grumbling that they are hungry, at times their stomachs voice their concerns for them much at the distaste of older sister Eiko. Fun and games, with the occasional schooling are all that can try to keep the boys out of mischief but then when a single solitary plane is seen flying overhead, no sirens joining in this time, their lives are about to take a drastic turn.
The bomb goes off, and August 6th 1945 will forever be remembered. In a kaleidoscope of colours houses are blown away, mothers and children are melted, glass shards fly and cut through everything in their path, people are literally boiled alive in the water, the world has changed forever. The movie does not flinch in showing these and more horrors are to come.
Gen is saved by a falling wall, the girl beside him did not share his fate and her life was taken just as quickly as the bright light came. He runs through his neighbourhood, now a mass of fires and broken homes to find his family, and he finds his mother and helps her to the front of their house only to watch helplessly as the rest of their family burn alive. The aftermath is all around them for as far as they can see, the dead and dying are everywhere. And it is at this time that Gen’s mother goes into labour. A new life for a new beginning perhaps ?
Then the black rain falls. <!--page-->
The dead and walking dead haunt the streets, the hospitals are full and soon the aid workers start taking ill. The effects of this bomb blast are still felt today, 60 years after the explosion. The silently killing radiation is leaking into the soil, the water and the lives of the innocent people.
Gen constantly rumbles through the debris looking for food and anything that will help his family, he finds some rice and this appears as a feast. They are eating one evening when another pair of hungry eyes falls on their meal. Ryuta, a small-orphaned boy is driven by the smell of the hot food and cannot contain himself at the thought of a meal. For the family this is quite a shock as he bears more than a passing resemblance to their own sadly missed Shiji. Although they have little, they give what they have to this small bundle of fun.
This disc also has its sequel, 'Barefoot Gen 2' (still unavailable in the US), which picks up three years later after the events of part 1. This might not be as accomplished a tale as Mori Masaki’s movie but Toshio Hirata and Akio Sakai handle their material well and take the story to Gen, his adopted ‘brother’ Ryuta, and look at the city through the eyes of its orphaned children. One such group take the boys under their wing and show them a few tricks to help them survive and provide for their ill mother. Masa, the leader is street wise and tries to keep them out of trouble, but like Katsuko, a badly burned girl who yearns for a normal life with such simplicities as schooling, they all need to pull together to get through this.
is similar in its emotional impact with the excellent ‘Grave of the Fireflies’
but whereas that pulls on the heartstrings this one truly horrifies in its depiction of the bombings and the aftermath. This is perhaps a little crudely animated compared with those of today’s standards but the level of storytelling can stand any turn of time. Based in part on the autobiographical comics of Keiji Nakazawa this is a heartfelt tale with a sad and true story of our own horror that perhaps it is right that every kid and adult should see. After watching this pair, there are images that will stay with you long after the credits roll, they do pack a powerful punch and not even the anti war ‘When the Wind Blows’
will prepare you for these. They are not just about the horrific bombings, but they show a glimpse of hope at the moment we unleash our own hell on earth, and for that we should be grateful.
There is a 16 page booklet that accompanies this release that has two short interviews from Nakazawa, one from Tara Brady, the other by Jonathan Clements, the co-author of The Anime Encyclopedia.
And for every purchase of this title, a donation will go towards the WAR child charity, a most worthy of cause that offers protection and emergency relief for children effected by war, or you can go directly to their webpage
and make a donation there.
'Barefoot Gen 1 & 2'
is available now via AmazonUK
, only part one is available in the US via Amazon
You can read more about the DVD in our database