Keiji Nakazawa: Hiroshima Through The Eyes Of Barefoot Gen
Hadashi no Gen (Barefoot Gen) is a Japanese manga story about a boy, Gen, who is in Hiroshima when the city is destroyed by the atomic bomb on 6th August 1945.
The manga was created by Keiji Nakazawa and is based on his own experiences as a Hiroshima a-bomb survivor. Just like Gen, Keiji Nakazawa was a schoolboy in Hiroshima in August 1945, although a few years older than the eponymous hero of the manga.
The story begins in 1945 in Hiroshima where the six-year-old Gen lives with his family. Gen lives with his father and mother and his older sister and younger brother. Gen’s mother is pregnant at the time of the a-bombing. Gen has just arrived at school when the bomb explodes. Protected by a wall, he survives and rushes home through the destroyed city, witnessing many horrific scenes of death, destruction and suffering as he goes.
When he gets back home he discovers his father, brother and sister are buried alive beneath the ruins of their house. His mother is in the street, desperate to help them, but she and Gen are unable to pull them free before they are consumed by the advancing flames.
The Barefoot Gen manga series follows the fortunes of Gen as he survives the immediate aftermath of the bombing and struggles to build a new future for himself, his mother and a young boy whom they adopt into their family.
Keiji Nakazawa began creating manga about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima after the death of his mother in 1966. His first story, Kuroi Ame ni Utarete (Struck by Black Rain), was about Hiroshima a-bomb survivors and the postwar black market. In 1972, Nakazawa wrote directly about his own experience in a manga story titled Ore wa Mita (I Saw It), published in monthly comic compilation, Shounen Jump.
After that, he began work on Barefoot Gen. Barefoot Gen is notable not only for the graphic account of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, but also for its criticisms of Japanese militarism and wartime propaganda. In the first volume of the ten volume series, Gen’s father is arrested and beaten up in custody for expressing anti-war sentiments and Gen has a difficult time of it at school as a result.
Hadashi no Gen has been translated into several languages and was one of the first manga to be published in English. Several film versions have also been made.
Recently, Keiji Nakazawa agreed to be interviewed about his experiences in Hiroshima and in the aftermath of the Second World War in Japan. The interviews were filmed and made into a documentary DVD, released by Tomo-Corp in cooperation with Siglo, under the title Hadashi no Gen ga Mita Hiroshima (The Hiroshima That Barefoot Gen Saw)
Nakazawa Keiji recalls his childhood experience of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima city, and explains how creating manga – Japanese comics – gave him a way to express what he had experienced. This personal expression was achieved most notably through the Hadashi no Gen (Barefoot Gen) manga series.
In the film, Nakazawa Keiji visits places in Hiroshima that he was familiar with as a child and takes us to the spot where he was standing when the bomb exploded. He describes what he witnessed, in moving and often harrowing detail.
Fascinating details of life in 1940s Hiroshima are also glimpsed, such as how he and other boys would play in the building that is now the A-Bomb Dome.
Nakazawa Keiji explains how he got a job as a manga artist and how he started to draw manga dealing with his own wartime experiences.
As he describes some of his experiences, equivalent frames from his manga stories are shown, making a vivid link between Nakazawa Keiji’s personal experience and its final expression in graphic images for mass-market comic monthlies such as Shonen Jump.