“You saw nothing in Hiroshima. Nothing,” says Eiji Okada in the opening of Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour. “I saw everything,” replies Emmanuelle Riva. “Everything.” The film goes on to show the effects of the American atomic-bomb attack that devastated the titular city nearly fifteen years before. This was the first many viewers had seen of the legacy of that unprecedented act of destruction, and now, six decades later, the cultural image of Hiroshima has conflated Resnais’ stark French New Wave vision with actual wartime documentary materials. By now, we’ve all seen contemporary photographs (and even film clips) of the fate of Hiroshima and subsequently atomic-bombed Nagasaki. Can we regard this world-historic destruction with fresh eyes?
A Youtuber known as Rick88888888 offers one way of potentially doing so: almost half an hour of colorized (as well as motion-stabilized, de-noised, and otherwise enhanced) footage of not just the explosions themselves, but the ruined Japanese cities and their struggling survivors, the airplanes that performed the bombing, and the United States President who ordered it. “The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor,” says Harry Truman in a broadcast on August 6, 1945, the day of the attack on Hiroshima. “They have been repaid many fold. And the end is not yet.” From the President, the American public first learned of the development of an atomic bomb, “a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East.”
As we know now, this was the fruit of the Manhattan Project, the secret U.S.-led research-and-development effort that created the first nuclear weapons. Its success, Truman says, prepared the Allies to “obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city. We shall destroy their docks, their factories, and their communications. Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan’s power to make war.” That they did, although military historians argue about about the justifiability of dropping “the bomb” as well as the exact extent it played in the ultimate Allied victory. But nobody can argue with the striking vividness of these “color” motion pictures of the event itself and its aftermath, which reminds us that the era of potential nuclear annihilation doesn’t belong to the distant past — rather, it’s a chapter of history that has only just begun.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.