- Producing Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Literature, Film, and Transnational Politics by Yuko Shibata
In this dazzling examination of cinematic and literary works about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Yuko Shibata addresses the colonial dynamic between Euro-American and Japanese knowledge production. The central focus of Shibata's book is the 1959 film Hiroshima Mon Amour, directed by French filmmaker Alain Resnais and based on a screenplay by novelist Marguerite Duras. Shibata analyzes the film as a textual palimpsest in which multiple images and narratives of the bombings are embedded. In particular, she directs attention to how representations of the nuclear bombings were suppressed, disavowed, misremembered, or otherwise contested—leaving ghostly traces of colonial and neocolonial power structures in Resnais's film. [End Page 589]
A Franco-Japanese coproduction, Hiroshima Mon Amour was filmed in Hiroshima with a French and Japanese cast and crew. In the film, a French actress meets a Japanese architect during her working trip to Hiroshima, and they have a brief love affair. For the actress, this tryst awakens painful memories of a tragic relationship with a German soldier during the Nazi occupation of Nevers. The film uses flashbacks, narrative ellipsis, and a dialogic structure (man/woman, Japan/France, present/past, etc.) to raise questions about trauma, memory and forgetting, war collaboration and reconciliation, subjectivity, and identity.
Chapter one painstakingly dissects the nexus of historical references and intertextual citations found in Resnais and Duras's film. Much of Shibata's analysis here revolves around two structuring absences. First, she raises the defunct French colonial empire in Asia as an important yet invisible context for the film. Like scholar Earl Jackson, Jr., Shibata understands Hiroshima Mon Amour as a product of Duras's colonial fantasies. Duras grew up in French Indochina and was employed by the French Colonial Office in Paris in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Shibata interprets the French actress as Duras's proxy and understands her doomed love affairs with a German soldier and Japanese architect as metaphors for France's wartime collaboration with Axis powers in Europe and Asia. Indeed, Shibata suggests that the French colonial authorities' collaboration with occupying Japanese forces may be one of the main historical traumas at work in Hiroshima Mon Amour. However, whereas the painful history of the Vichy collaborationist government is explicitly raised by the film, the wartime alliance of French and Japanese colonial powers is only hinted at with the story of a French-Japanese love affair that will eventually fade and be "forgotten." Shibata carefully argues the significance of the French empire in Indochina through biographical, symptomatic, and transtextual readings of Duras's works—this is an exquisite example of Shibata's implicational reading strategy at its most successful.
The second structuring absence Shibata finds in Hiroshima Mon Amour is that of America's Cold War hegemony. However, her recuperation of this historical context through close textual reading of Hiroshima Mon Amour is not as convincing as her discussion of American hegemony in chapters two, three, and four, which more straightforwardly touch on US influence. For instance, in chapter two, which focuses on Kamei Fumio's film Still It's Good to Live (1956), Shibata insightfully discusses how the United States circumscribed representations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan and films that appeared critical of the United States–Japan Cold War military alliance. Chapter three centers on the inclusion of real-life hibakusha (atomic bomb survivor) Kikkawa Kiyoshi in Resnais's film. This chapter provides detailed information about the US and Japanese governments' repression of information and images of hibakusha, setting the stage for Shibata's analysis of the political implications of Resnais's filmic strategy of defamiliarization, decontextualization, fragmentation, and erasure. Finally, in chapter four, Shibata examines the widespread influence of John Hershey's Hiroshima (1946) as a template for many later hibakusha narratives, paying special attention to Nagai Takashi's autobiographical account, The Bells of Nagasaki (1949).
Shibata's strategy of textual juxtaposition and (re)contextualization is overall effective. In fact...