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Manoa 13.1 (2001) 180-187
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Hiroshima through Light: From Light to Silence, Silence to Light
Cinepoem on Urban Space
In August 1995, London was in a festive mood, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Allied victory in World War ii. But in Trafalgar Square, a Sprechchor of NO MORE HIROSHIMA was raised by people who'd gathered there from all over Europe.
The name of the city was not written with the Japanese characters to which I was accustomed, but in the Roman alphabet: HIROSHIMA. And so I wondered if it was really the same city, or something else.
Then I saw a party of Japanese tourists pass quietly by the demonstrators. The square for them was no longer an ideal sightseeing spot, but a space with an entirely different meaning. At about the same time, the French government began nuclear testing in a place far removed from the criticism of other nations.
I'd never been to Hiroshima in my life, nor had any urge to go. What I set out to do was trace my own interior journey from Europe to the Hiroshima in my mind. This is my attempt to see Hiroshima.
Part One: Intervention of Light
[Image of film projector mechanism; black-and-white clip from Godard film panning across hills in Japan. Lettering: TU N'AS RIEN VU A HIROSHIMA]
On 28 December 1995, a TV documentary, A Century of Cinema, was shown around the world. I saw it in Tokyo. In it, Jean-Luc Godard said something that spoke directly to me, erasing the distance between France and Japan: "You saw nothing in Hiroshima."
[Film-projector beam aimed into the camera; projector noise in background; fade to black] [End Page 180]
A hundred years ago, a source of luminosity began to flash in a dark basement of a small café in Paris. Few people could foresee just how popular these moving images would later become. After all, they were just illusions projected into the dark. And yet this new intervention of light and shadow was to have untold influence on the occurrence of human perception and psychology in space.
[Black-and-white Japanese film clip: three schoolboys at play, pretending to be soldiers; cut to black-and-white clip of French woman's face]
Soon the technology of film was imported to Japan. Light came first. The "Genesis" of Japanese films brought us images of happy, if impoverished, homes. This was a landscape of happiness. Films
also showed us what life could be in the far West, in the lands we dreamed of.
[War footage: Japanese Zero attacks enemy warships]
However, Japan began to intervene, unilaterally, in the West. And the reappearance of light and shadow became a medium for force and oppression, a way to distort reality.
[Clip from The Life of Muhomatsu: two men in a foot race; a crowd cheering; close-up of a little boy and a woman cheering]
Two years before the end of the war, a film called The Life of Muhomatsu was released. The story was about the delicate communication established between a poor rickshawer and the widow of an army officer who was raising a small child alone. The military censors cut the film to pieces. They said it was not proper to show a romance between a common rickshawer and an officer's widow, even if it was platonic.
[Film clip of actress Keiko Sonoi smiling and laughing]
[End Page 181]
So audiences had to imagine the man's feelings, with only indirect images to go on. The actress who played the widow was thirty years old. She decided to stay in the film industry. But the difficult transition from stage acting to the new medium of film forced her to postpone indefinitely any opportunities for romance or motherhood in her own life.
[Black-and-white photograph of actress Keiko Sonoi]
During the war she toured the country with her films, to promote the attraction of this use of light and shadow.
[Image of atomic explosion]