Welcome to the Friday following Pearl Harbor day. You know, the day that the Japanese attacked not only Pearl Harbor, but islands and countries over the Pacific Ocean. This inevitably led to the United States’ entry into World War 2 by first declaring war on Japan and Germany declaring war on the US not much later than that. Barefoot Gen takes place the end of that horrible war and we are celebrating the beginning of a war this week to see how they actually end. In disaster. War is just awful and while people are fighting out in the field fighting, dying, and doing who knows what else, fiction doesn’t usually remember the civilians as well. Barefoot Gen is another animated film series focusing on World War 2 from the Japanese civilian perspective years before other series did the same thing. Content Warning For This Film Series. It’s very adult.
The first Barefoot Gen takes place in a city called Hiroshima near the end of World War 2. Yeah, if you know your history and are expecting something to happen, it happens. No surprises here. This is a tragedy and nothing is held back from this experience. The strength of the first movie is the setting up the reason to care about the people who were bombed and it works very well. We follow the life of the six-year-old Gen and his family that are dirt poor. They don’t wear shoes, barely survive in the world as they don’t have tickets for food lines, his mother his pregnant, and such. Yet, he and his family try their best despite the food shortages.
The true horrors of the nuclear bomb are fully released. These are people only trying their best to survive in a time where they aren’t getting the resources necessary for a healthy living, yet they are also victims of the nuclear bomb too. A victim from two sides. Gen loses most of his family as they burn alive underneath a house his house and then the fight of survival makes its time. Will the mother still have their baby during this time? What will happen next? It’s a pretty typical story of this scenario through Gen’s point of view as a vocal point as a reactionary character. That doesn’t take away from the drama on screen. It’s still very powerful material
The second film is the most interesting film. Set three years after the bombing, it’s not as set down by expectations of what are destined to happen, but what is left after it happened. Radiation poisoning is rampant but no one has a name for it yet, The United States is occupying Japan, Schools are being held in broken down buildings, kids are scared for life, and so many other things. This is a film where Gen does so much more then survive and react, but decide his own future through his actions and what he has learned. It’s his constant push for the future, despite it all and it’s sad but so enduring at the same time. Such wonderful bravery.
Barefoot Gen 2 is a story that focuses on orphans. Gen and his adopted brother still have their mother working for them, so they live the shadows of a normal life. Of course, certain things like his mother getting lighter and lighter over time, Gen’s desperate search for ways to help his mother by joining with war orphans who have their own thieving ring, the US Soldiers dropping scraps of food and water bottles for kids to take out of pity, and so many other horrors. There is so many things on top of things to consider, but Gen not being a bitter kid and instead being open for accepting everyone is a strength. Maybe accepting things is something that comes from his background and dealing with changing perspectives of the world around him, but it does allow him to survive.
Out of these films come multiple themes. The first one, obviously, are antiwar themes. This isn’t only an indictment of the United States for bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but on the the Imperial Japanese forces as well. How does a country have some much pride to keep fighting a losing war when its civilians are struggling and starving for food? The incident that happened are the result of both actions. Japan not giving up the war and the United States not wanting to fully invade Japan lead to the bombs dropping. Everyone is at fault for human tragedies involved in this. Gen’s dad himself calls out Japan’s Government for the war still continuing, though not openingly. Human kind sucks.
Another set of themes are pride and greed. Two dance partners that like to tango. Learning to let go and when to still have it. This is a much more nuanced thing because we already talked about the major one. Some neighbors help provide food while others don’t. All are events that build up society while slowly leading to the bombs dropping. That was the result of pride where there weren’t any direct completely right answers honestly. There are other elements worth discussing as well. Gen refusing to get the scraps from US soldiers for instance. The people with resources and wealth keep to themselves while so many people are struggling. So are generous, but others keep their wealth for themselves. Sometimes, the only thing a person can do to survive is steal.
For this post, the last theme is hope. In spite the trauma, the deaths, the people who are going to health problems for ages, and the conditions of the world around him, Gen has hope for the future. That comes from the values he carries from his parents, the people who are around him that want him around, and everything else. We could also say that the destruction of Hiroshima represents the fall of the imperialist Japanese regime. An old-world order that is slowly dying and what we see now are the starting of something new still sorting itself out. There is strength in Gen and other orphan kids for a new future if they can survive. Change doesn’t happen instantly, but over time. This can be represented by the house the orphans built. Not as big as before, but a powerful step forward compared to what they had before.
When thinking about Barefoot Gen, I can’t help but think of a lot of the striking and horrifying visuals. Before getting into that, the film generally looks great. The character designs are, of course, older, but are animated very well through expressions and the way they move and walk. There is some stillness in the movies animation from time to time, but there are also great emotional moments and beautiful bits of animation that are mind blowing as well. There is a balance for one thing to take over the reigns of the other. Which leads to the bomb sequences of absolute horror. I remember that one scene in Terminator 2, but this one is worse. The animators didn’t hold back from displaying all levels of human horror from the bomb drop off, which is why there should be a content warning. Some very heavy themes here.
Maybe it’s not completely appropriate to talk about Barefoot Gen on the week following Pearl Harbor and other bombings occurred, but I feel like there is a value here that needs to talked about. War War 2, the destruction it led to, and so on are important to our current history. While it’s not Veterans Day so it’s not as appropriate, Pearl Harbor Day is another good time to remember human costs and the horrors the greatest generation had to face. I don’t think these films are perfect, but they show the values of human lives, how fragile we are, and how bad decisions can lead to something devastating. I don’t have much to say other than that. Barefoot Gen 2 is a stronger film in my eyes, but that doesn’t discount the wonder and horror of the first one. If you can handle the content and the drama, absolutely solid experience. Can’t recommend these enough.