The visible scars on survivors’ bodies, like the black and white footage of a post-nuclear Hiroshima, haunt our collective hearts and minds. Pick up any history book about World War II and watch the typical news coverage on the subject. These images indelibly evoke and enforce themselves within the text. This unique documentary is a collaboration between photographer Miyako Ishiuchi and filmmaker Linda Hoaglund stands as their mutual commitment to shattering this imagery of the Japanese as victims of a holocaust. It also calls into question the idea of colonial perpetrators getting their comeuppance in their tragic fate. Instead, more than a half century later, they choose to ask simply what allowed the Japanese to survive after such devastation and more universally, how this singular historic event has shaped the public and critical discourse around nuclear power and the prospect of ecological disaster.
This film first takes root and brings out the enduring intercultural connections between Hiroshima survivors in Japan and the Japanese-Canadian diasporas. Hoaglund uses her camera to document Ishiuchi’s working technique and philosophy. She traverses the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum taking close-up shots of personal artifacts (clothing, household wares, and objects). Ishiuchi once told The New Yorker regarding her earlier photo series, “Mother’s”: “things left behind are eloquent. They speak to me and I hear them. Things are created for people to use, and things exist for humans. Once their user vanishes, the things should vanish, too. But these personal effects have outlived the persons who used them. The question is: Why?”
With cinematographer Yutaka Yamasaki, the photographer and the filmmaker engage us in a dialogue over this very question and in doing so, reveal the power of affect on history and historical interpretation. In an interview response to The Japan Times, Ishiuchi asserts her primary desire to “liberate Hiroshima from the shackles of stereotype […] and that, in her eyes, “a thing of beauty is a thing of beauty, no matter the circumstances.”