A Review of “Barefoot Gen” – Finding Hope in the Hell that was once Home

“Wheat sprouts up in cold, harsh winters, is stepped on often, and is rooted deep in the earth. It resists frost, wind, and snow, grows straight, and makes splendid ears. Become strong like wheat, boys.”

-Daikichi Nakaoka 

Greetings guys! With the month of November comes Thanksgiving; a time of the year when we gather with those we love and give thanks for all that we’ve been blessed with. I picked this anime movie in particular to review to help serve as a small reminder that, regardless of how bad things might look to you, there is always someone who has it much, much worse. “Barefoot Gen” is a movie that shows the perseverance of one Japanese boy amidst unthinkable hardships, but through it all, he maintains his optimism and his belief that things can and will be better. I’m Cajun Samurai, and this is my review of “Barefoot Gen”.

Movie Warnings and Notable Objectionable Content – “Barefoot Gen” is pretty much a story about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so it’s not all sunshine and flowers. The movie is rated as TV-13, and I would agree with that rating wholeheartedly–this is NOT a movie that you really wanna show anyone younger than 13. The horrific sights of the devastation during and after the atomic bomb are just too much for any young kid to handle–heck, I could hardly handle it and I’m about as far from being a young kid as you can get.

Movie Availability – Oh boy. Here’s where things get confusing. There are two versions of “Barefoot Gen” floating around: a first-release DVD by a small production company which includes an English dub, and a 2006 release by the now-defunct Geneon Entertainment. The Geneon version [The DVD with a mostly red and black cover…]includes both the original movie plus a sequel movie that was created about two years later called “Barefoot Gen 2” [Which I’ll review later…]. It should be noted that the Geneon version does NOT include an English dub. Both versions are relatively hard to come by, so unless your brick and mortar retailer has a VERY extensive collection of old-school anime, then you might wanna hit Online retailers. As for online viewing, you’re in luck. YouTube just so happens to have both the original subtitled version and the English dub version available for viewing so watch while the watching is good.

Historical Backstory –  “Barefoot Gen” is a move based off an original manga series by Keiji Nakazawa. This movie takes place during the tail end of World War II; Japan and the United States are locked in a bitter war since the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and even though Japan is clearly at a disadvantage in the war, those in power refuse to surrender to the stronger opposing militia. On July 26, 1945, the Allied Forces issue a formal ultimatum to Japan, known as the Potsdam Declaration outlining the conditions to which the Japanese were to surrender with the clear warning that if the Japanese do not surrender, they would face “prompt and utter destruction.” The Japanese government do not respond. On August 6, 1945 the US makes good on its threat, dropping the atomic bomb dubbed “Little Boy” on the city of Hiroshima. Tens of thousands of people were killed in the initial blast with thousands more to follow due to extreme injuries and lingering radioactive fallout. After the blast, President Harry Truman re-issued the Postdam Declaration by both radio broadcasts and dropping leaflets from the air using US Bombers warning Japan once again that if they do not surrender under the articles laid out in the Declaration of Surrender, they could could expect “…a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth. Behind this air attack will follow sea and land forces in such numbers and power as they have not yet seen and with the fighting skill of which they are already well aware.”  The Japanese Emporer Hirohito, still unflinching in his resolve and unwilling to accept the articles laid out for surrender, again does not reply. Once again, the United States follows through on it’s deadly threat, and on August 9th, another nuclear bomb, this one dubbed “Fat Man”, was dropped on the waterfront city of Nagasaki. With this devistating attack, along with the formal declaration of war by the Soviet Union on Japan, and the invasion of Manchiuria, on August 15th, VIA a recorded radio statement known as the “Jewel Voice Broadcast” [Or Gyokuon-hōsō], Emporer Hirohito announces to his severly wounded country that the have finally accepted the terms of surrender laid out by the Allies, brining an end to World War II, but sadly, not before over 160,000 people lost their lives and countless others were injured.

Story Premise – “Barefoot Gen” takes place in the days before and after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and follows the struggles of the Nakaoka family; father Daikichi, mother Kimie, big sister Eiko, big brother and title character Gen, and young Shinji in Hiroshima. The family struggles like many families in Japan during this time of war with too little food, too little money, and too many mouths to feed. Add to the fact that Kimie is expecting another child and suffers from both malnutrition and exhaustion, and you have a potentially family breaking situation. However, just like any other family during any other timeframe, they make the best of their situation, and find a way to survive…until the literal bomb drops. In one fell swoop, Gen loses his brother, his sister and his father. With his family all but decimated, save for his mother and unborn sibling, Gen must find a way to keep his family alive by any means necessary, even if it means potentially sacrificing his own health in the process. As I sat down to type up this review, I was reminded of one of my favorite movies and books of all time, “The Diary of Anne Frank“. For those who don’t know, “The Diary of Anne Frank” is based on a real life diary kept by a young 15-year-old girl who was in hiding with her Jewish family and several others in an attic above her father’s business during Adolph Hitler’s reign in Germany. Anne wrote in her diary regularly, describing day-to-day events in the attic for over two years before her family was discovered, captured and sent to a concentration camp where she later died. While “Barefoot Gen” doesn’t quite follow the same kind of story telling style as “The Diary of Anne Frank”, and obviously the two stories take different routes with regards to their protagonists, they do share a common theme–a child’s eye view of the adults war. In “Barefoot Gen” we see just how Gen and his family survives in the world both pre-bombing and post-bombing with the overall theme of “Life, though painful, finds a way to go on”. Through each trial and tribulation that the family goes through, even past the bombings, Prior to watching the movie, I had the opportunity to read the original manga, and I have to say that there was a lot in the manga that I would’ve enjoyed seeing animated. For example, in the manga, Daikichi, Gen’s father, was a vocal opponent of the war, an opinion that no Japanese would dare voice out loud in public. This caused quite a few conflicts with him and his neighbors, who were steadfast loyal to the Emperor regardless of the obvious futility. However, in the movie, Daikichi only expresses his beliefs privately with his sons. Granted that the scene may’ve been left out due to time constraints, and the scene itself does the job of relaying the father’s feelings about the war, but I would’ve preferred a slightly longer movie that stayed true to the manga. The ending of “Barefoot Gen” is solemn yet hopeful. The last 10 minutes of the movie pretty much take us from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, and then, just when you think that all is lost, there’s a trace of hope that leaves the viewer feeling optimistic about the future of these adorable characters. [23/25]

Favorite Scene – My personal favorite scene has to be when the father, Daikichi, is talking to his sons about why he is against the war and he tells them that it takes real courage to stand up for something you know with every fiber of your being is wrong, even when its’ not the “popular” opinion and even when you face ostracization by the majority for voicing your decent. While I believe that the creators of the movie should’ve leaned more towards the original manga and actively showed Daikichi being rebuked by his neighbors for his beliefs, I am, however, extremely satisfied with this little moment that we do get. It’s a strong moment in the film, and it’s capped nicely with Gen’s nonchalant yet heartfelt showing of affection towards his father.

Characters – Our main character, Gen Nakaoka, is a young boy who lives with his family in Hiroshima, Japan. He is pretty much your regular, everyday child of the time; active, outgoing, quick to act but slow to think at times, but overall a good kid with a good heart. This is the kind of protagonist that is needed in a story like this; someone we can care for and root for. His younger brother Shinji is your typical little brother character–desperate for his brothers approval, but also wanting to prove his own independence. Watching him and Gen interact is true to life-like a brother and sister. Father Daikichi is a character I wish was a little more developed, honestly. In the manga, he’s a very strong character with very strong beliefs, and the movie tries hard to show this, but as I mentioned above, without the scenes showing his direct defiance against the status quo, and the scenes showing the rebukes he garnishes because of his anti-war beliefs, he just comes off as a just another father-figure, not quite the inspirational father figure that pushes Gen to move forward. The same can be said somewhat of the mother, Kimie. She has her moments, sure, but I wanted a bit more personality like in the original manga. Lastly, the sister, Eiko…well…she’s just there. We don’t get much time with her as a character; she plays her role just like in the manga to a point with no real deviation, so I can’t really take points for that, but I just wish she had a bit more presence and given more to do, even with her short screen time. Overall, the characters are good, but had the creators stuck with the original manga a bit more, they would’ve been outstanding, in my view. [22/25]

Animation – The animation is nothing like the ultra polished and ultra modern faire we see today. However, it does the job effectively…almost too effectively for many. The hellish renderings of the scenes during the bombing are bone chilling and will stick with you long after the ending credits roll. For those of you who are old enough to remember the Made for TV movie “The Day After”, imagine the bombing sequence of that movie put to animation cels and you’ll get a small taste of what I’m talking about. Don’t look for any screen shots from me of those scenes–there’s NO way I feel right posting those on here. The image on the left here is as close as you can get as in the very next frame, you actually see the girl Gen was walking to school with literally melt away. It’s a gruesome sight. Character designs are well done and consistent throughout the movie. [12.5/12.5]

Music – There’s not much to report here. There’s no soundtrack to speak of, but the opening and closing pieces as well as the incidental music does the job well. It is slightly overly dramatic in spots, but considering the subject matter, and the scenes it’s used in, and also the time in which the movie was made, I can’t dock it too harshly. [12/12.5]

Performances and Production – “Barefoot Gen” was created by Studio Madhouse with directors Mamoru Shinzaki and Mori Masaki at the helm. In the US, the dub was done way back in the 1990’s by Streamline Pictures with the late, great Carl Macek at the helm. Streamline handled quite a few old-school anime projects, the most infamous  of which being the re-dub of “Akira”. The cast list reads like a whos-who in the world of veteran voice actors/actresses. Typically, I would do a breakdown of all the English voice actors/actresses right about now, but IMDB and Anime News Network  records are a little sketchy about who played who outside a few characters, so I’ll just discuss those roles who are confirmed. Heading up our cast is Catherine Battistone as the title character, Gen Nakaoka. Honestly, her performance is very touching. Is it perfect? No. Is it heartfelt? Yes. Does it get the job done? 100%. Playing Kimie Nakaoka is Barbara Goodson. It’s easy to see why she remains such a popular actress even to this day. Her performance here is excellent. Wendee Lee as big sister Eiko is very well done, however, once again, I could pick her voice out from a mile away. However, I believe that can be forgiven somewhat as this is an earlier dub and she is genuinely good. Finally Brianne Siddall as the younger brother Shinji is spot on. She’s another actress that has an easily recognisable voice, There are more that I know I’m neglecting to mention like  Mike Reynolds, Joyce Kurtz, and Ardwight Chamberlain, but suffice it to say, that this dub, early though it may be, is a  well done one and it’s worth giving it a listen. [24/25]

Scoring Summary:

Story Breakdown – 23/25
Characters – 22/25
Animation – 12.5/12.5
Music – 12/12.5
Performance and Production – 24/25

Final Score – 93.5/100 = 93.5% – (A-)

 Lagniappe (A Little Something Extra):

  • The original manga artist, Keiji Nakazawa, was actually a survivor of the bombing of Hiroshima and many of the events that Gen went through in the manga and in the movie including [SPOILER ALERT!! HIGHLIGHT TO READ!! Helping his mother with the birth of his own siblingEND SPOILER ALERT!!] are based on real-life events that he went through.

So where does that leave us? Well, simply put, “Barefoot Gen” is a story of war, it’s a story of disaster, and it’s a story of unmitigated horror. But, despite all this, it’s also a story of hope–an inspirational tale of perseverance despite great sorrow, and it’s confirmation that, even with unimaginable hardships looming around you, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, so long as you keep a faint glimmer of hope alive.

And that brings us to the end of “Barefoot Gen”. One thing that I became tragically aware of during my viewing of this movie was that I was indeed the product of a poor public education as I had little to no memory about this portion of world history or learning about it during my 12 years of education. It’s only thanks to a few teachers in middle and high school showing us certain films and making us read certain books that I am not completely ignorant on the subject. Thankfully, age does not dim curiosity, and when I saw this movie come up for review, I took it upon myself to start filling in some blanks about this dark time in history by doing my own research and study, taking advantage of the modern technologies that are now readilly available. In any case, I think I have one more good review in me for the month and I really don’t want to leave the month behind on such a solemn note, ESPECIALLY since we’re entering the Holiday season! So let’s take at the old anime shelf and see what comes up…hmm…no…no…ABSOLUTELY NOT! Hmm…lemme see…how about this one? Meh, why not? And maybe I can get OtakuAndrain in on this one. Our first Studio Ghibli title, and it’s not the one you’re thinking of! Stick around as we Tag-Team review…

“My Neighbors the Yamadas”

 

This review is dedicated to the memory of my coworker, Reginald Head, who passed away on Tuesday night in an automobile accident. He will be missed by both family and friends alike. – Cajun Samurai

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5 thoughts on “A Review of “Barefoot Gen” – Finding Hope in the Hell that was once Home

  1. I’ve been enjoying Zetsuen no Tempest, too. It’s a fantasy anime, but doesn’t seem to be as cliche as most modern fantasy anime unfortunately is. And your post reminds me to make some time for Psycho-Pass.

    By the way, it was amusing to see someone use the abbreviation ZnT for something other than Zero no Tsukaima. Have you seen that show?

  2. I think that only the Eastern rite Catholics receive under both species by intinction. In any case only priests are allowed to self-communicate. This is awful!

    But I do understand that it’s a natural result of the secularist culture of direct access and egalitarianism. A scholar by the name of Charles Taylor wrote a spectacular work titled Modern Social Imaginaries http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/0822332930. You should read it if you haven’t yet. It does a great job delineating how society got to this point and a general understanding of the modern worldview. My professor argues that it’s important to be familiar with it because people can only understand one nowadays if on speaks on those terms–even if the Scholastic vision is objectively superior.

      1. LOL! It seems like the comment I meant for Servus Fidelis’s blog wound up on yours. I suppose that I still have to get used to the WordPress app on my phone. Here that comment comes out of left field. Let me try to post that comment again.

        The book I recommended is pretty great though. You should read it.

        1. Heh, thanks! I really love feedback, but I love feedback I can actually understand! When I read it, I was thinking “Good grief, I know I’m not the ripest banana in the bunch, but I really don’t understand what the heck she’s trying to say! LOL

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