The Story of Akiko Takakura, One of the Last Survivors of the Hiroshima Bombing, Told in a Short Animated Documentary

André Hör­mann and Anna Samo’s short ani­ma­tion, Obon, opens on a serene scene — a qui­et for­est, anda red torii gate fram­ing moon­light on the water.

But then we notice that the water is choked with bod­ies, vic­tims of the bomb­ing of Hiroshi­ma.

Akiko Takaku­ra, whose rem­i­nis­cences inspired the film, arrived for work at the Hiroshi­ma Bank just min­utes before the Eno­la Gay dropped the atom­ic bomb “Lit­tle Boy” over the city, killing some 80,000 instant­ly.

Takaku­ra-san, who had been clean­ing desks and moon­ing over a cute co-work­er with her fel­low junior bank employ­ee Sato­mi Usa­mi when the bomb hit, was one of the 10 peo­ple with­in a radius of 500 meters from ground zero to have sur­vived .

(Usa­mi-san, who fought her way out of the wreck­age with her friend’s assis­tance, lat­er suc­cumbed to her injuries.)

Ani­ma­tor Samo, whose style harkens to tra­di­tion­al wood­cuts, based her depic­tion of the hor­rors con­fronting the two young women when they emerge from the bank on the draw­ings of sur­vivors:

With­out craft or artistry to hide behind, the draw­ings told sto­ries unfil­tered, made me hear shak­ing voic­es say­ing: this is what hap­pened to us.

Takaku­ra-san attempt­ed to cap­ture one such image in a 1974 draw­ing:

I saw one corpse with burn­ing fin­gers. Her hand was raised and her fin­gers were on fire, blue flames burn­ing them down to stumps. A light char­coal-col­ored liq­uid was ooz­ing onto the ground. When I think of those hands cradling beloved chil­dren and turn­ing the pages of books, even now my heart fills with a deep sad­ness.

Takaku­ra-san was 84 when writer/director Hör­mann trav­eled to Japan to meet with his­to­ri­ans, nuclear sci­en­tists, peace researchers and elder­ly sur­vivors of the atom­ic bomb. Over the course of three 90 minute ses­sions, he noticed a qual­i­ty that set her apart from the oth­er sur­vivors he inter­viewed :

…the sto­ries that she told me there was always a glim­mer­ing light of hope in the midst of all of the hor­ror. For me, it was a sigh of relief to have this moment of hope and peace, it was beau­ti­ful. It is impos­si­ble to just tell a sto­ry that is all pain. Ms. Takakura’s sto­ry was a way for me to look at this dark piece of his­to­ry and not be emo­tion­al­ly crushed.

Her per­spec­tive informs the film, which trav­els back­ward and for­ward through­out time.

We meet her as a tiny, kimono-clad old woman in mod­ern day Japan, whose face now bears a strong resem­blance to her father’s. Her back is criss­crossed with scars of the 102 lac­er­a­tions she sus­tained on the morn­ing of August 6, 1945.

We then see her as a lit­tle girl, whose father, “a typ­i­cal man from Mei­ji times, tough and strict,” is unable to express affec­tion toward his daugh­ter.

This changed when the 19-year-old was reunit­ed with her fam­i­ly after the bomb­ing, and her father asked for for­give­ness while ten­der­ly bathing her burned hands.

To Hör­mann this “tiny moment of hap­pi­ness” and con­nec­tion is at the heart of Obon.

Ani­ma­tor Samo won­ders if Takaku­ra-san would have achieved “peace with the world that was so cru­el to her” if her father hadn’t tend­ed to her wound­ed hands so gen­tly:

What does an act of love in a moment of despair mean? Can it allow you to you go on with a nor­mal life, drink tea and cook rice? If you have seen so much death, can you still look peo­ple in the eyes, get mar­ried and give birth to chil­dren?

The film takes its title from the annu­al Bud­dhist hol­i­day to com­mem­o­rate ances­tors and pay respect to the dead.

As an old woman, Takaku­ra-san tends to the fam­i­ly altar, then trav­els with younger cel­e­brants to the riv­er for the release of the paper lanterns that are believed to guide the spir­its back to their world at the festival’s end.

The face that appears in her glow­ing lantern is both her father’s and a reflec­tion of her own.

Read an inter­view with Akiko Takaku­ra here.

To Chil­dren Who Don’t Know the Atom­ic Bomb

by Akiko Takaku­ra

8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945,
a very clear morn­ing.
The moth­er prepar­ing her baby’s milk,
the old man water­ing his pot­ted plants,
the old woman offer­ing flow­ers at her Bud­dhist altar,
the young boy eat­ing break­fast,
the father start­ing work at his com­pa­ny,
the thou­sands walk­ing to work on the street,
all died.
Not know­ing an atom­ic bomb would be dropped,
they lived as usu­al.
Sud­den­ly, a flash.
“Ah ~
Just as they saw it,
peo­ple in hous­es were shoved over and smashed.
Peo­ple walk­ing on streets were blown away.
Peo­ple were burned-faces, arms, legs-all over.
Peo­ple were killed, all over
the city of Hiroshi­ma
by a sin­gle bomb.

Those who died.
A hun­dred? No. A thou­sand? No. Ten thou­sand?
No, many, many more than that.
More peo­ple than we can count
died, speech­less,
know­ing noth­ing.
Oth­ers suf­fered ter­ri­ble burns,

hor­rif­ic injuries.
Some were thrown so hard
their stom­achs ripped open,
their spines broke.
Whole bod­ies filled with glass shards.
Clothes dis­ap­peared,
burned and tat­tered.

Fires came right after the explo­sion.
Hiroshi­ma engulfed in flames.
Every­one flee­ing, not know­ing where
they were or where to go.
Every­one bare­foot,
cry­ing tears of anger and grief,
hair stick­ing up, look­ing like Ashu­ra*,
they ran on bro­ken glass, smashed roofs
along a long, wide road of fire.

Blood flowed.
Burned skin peeled and dan­gled.
Whirl­winds of fire raged here and there.
Hun­dreds, thou­sands of fire balls
30-cen­time­ters across
whirled right at us.
It was hard to breathe in the flames,
hard to see in the smoke.

What will become of us?
Those who sur­vived, injured and burned,
shout­ed, “Help! Help!” at the top of their lungs.
One woman walk­ing on the road
died and then
her fin­gers burned,
a blue flame short­en­ing them like can­dles,
a gray liq­uid trick­ling down her palms
and drip­ping to the ground.
Whose fin­gers were those?
More than 50 years lat­er,
I remem­ber that blue flame,
and my heart near­ly bursts
with sor­row.

via Aeon

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The “Shad­ow” of a Hiroshi­ma Vic­tim, Etched into Stone Steps, Is All That Remains After 1945 Atom­ic Blast

This 392-Year-Old Bon­sai Tree Sur­vived the Hiroshi­ma Atom­ic Blast & Still Flour­ish­es Today: The Pow­er of Resilience

Haunt­ing Unedit­ed Footage of the Bomb­ing of Nagasa­ki (1945)

Watch Chill­ing Footage of the Hiroshi­ma & Nagasa­ki Bomb­ings in Restored Col­or

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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