Barefoot Gen (はだしのゲン Hadashi no Gen) is a 1983 Japanese animated war drama film loosely based on the Japanese manga series of the same name by Keiji Nakazawa. Directed by Mori Masaki, it depicts World War II in Japan from a child's point of view revolving around the events surrounding the bombing of Hiroshima and the main character's first hand experience of the bomb. It was dubbed by Streamline Pictures in 1995, despite the fact that it was released in the United States on June 13, 1992 and on July 3, 1992 at San Jose, California. A sequel titled Barefoot Gen 2, is released in 1986.

Plot Edit

The story begins on August 4, 1945, in Hiroshima with the everyday life of Gen Nakaoka, his younger brother Shinji, their father Daikichi, elder sister Eiko, and pregnant mother Kimie, during the final days of World War II.

The beginning of the plot focuses on the Nakaoka family's struggle to survive as shortages of food and other items continue to worsen throughout Japan. Like the other residents, the family wonders why Hiroshima has so far suffered almost no damage, since massive fleets of American B-29 Superfortress bombers have already devastated nearly all of Japan's other major cities.

At night, the family is awakened by an air raid siren and take refuge in their bomb shelter, but soon becomes clear that this is yet another false alarm. During one ordeal, Gen's father Daikichi again questions why so many American aircraft are constantly flying over Hiroshima without dropping any bombs, and expresses his fear that Hiroshima has been deliberately preserved and studied for a unique and terrible purpose.

Gen and Shinji try to help their family by working tirelessly in the family's wheat field, or attempting to find food for their pregnant mother Kimie, who has grown ill from malnutrition. When a neighbor tells them carps blood helps people with malnutrition get better, they set out to get a carp...from an old man's pond. When the boys get caught stealing the fish, the old man hits Gen. Gen tells the man he can hit him all he wants if the old man lets them keep the carp, and Shinji says the old man can hit him, too. When the old man asks why they want the carp so bad, they explain that their mother needs it or she might die. The old man, who is impressed by their efforts, allows them to keep the carp for their mother, and apologizes for hitting Gen.

On the morning of August 6, Shinji shows his Father a wooden boat Gen made for him, and tells his Father that Gen promised to take him to the river to set it afloat after he returns from school. Gen leaves his home around 7:40 in the morning. Upon reaching his school at approximately 8:15, Gen and a friend take notice of a single B-29 aircraft flying far overhead. Like other Hiroshima residents, they are not concerned, since they decide that a single aircraft cannot possibly pose any kind of threat, but they are still curious as to why it's here. As this occurs, his father, sister, and brother watch and discuss as an army of ants enters their home in large numbers, while his mother hangs clothes on a clothesline on a second-floor balcony of the house. Gen, who is tossing a pebble up and down, drops it and bends over to pick it up.

Above their heads, the pilots of the B-29 release a single bomb upon the city, which slowly descends upon Hiroshima. Gen is about to pick up his pebble when, suddenly, there is a blinding flash of white light that envelopes the entire city as the bomb detonates. As it explodes, several people (a little girl, a soldier, an old man, and a woman with a baby) and a dog are, in a horrifying sequence, burned alive by the bomb, their skin burned to a dark-red crisp and their eyeballs gruesomely melting out of their skulls. Several explicit and dramatic scenes throughout Hiroshima show the effects of the explosion, as buildings such as the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall and the Hiroshima Castle are obliterated and people are literally evaporated. Daikichi, Eiko, and Shinji are buried by their collapsing home, and Kimie falls from the balcony. Gen is protected from the flash because he was bent down on the other side of a stone wall, but his friend is not so lucky: she was still standing when the bomb exploded, and she is badly burned. Gen is spared these injuries, but he is still blown back by the shock wave, and is buried under some rubble. As this progresses, a gigantic mushroom cloud rises over the destroyed Hiroshima.

After the explosion scene ends, a long sequence documenting the immediate horrors of the bomb begins: Gen discovers his friend is dead, and is soon overtaken by the sight of the catastrophic destruction surrounding him, and the sight of horribly burned and mutilated people wandering aimlessly through streets; Gen wonders out loud if they are ghosts, since it is hard to tell if they are dead or alive. Kimie has survived with only minimal injuries, but the rest of the family are trapped under the ruins of the house. Despite their efforts, Gen and his mother cannot rescue them, and as the surrounding firestorm approaches, Daikichi orders them to escape, while telling Gen that he must now protect his mother and her unborn child. Gen refuses at first, but ultimately decides to do as he asks. Gen is forced to drag his mother away, who is mad with grief as she attempts to free herself, but Gen prevents her. The two watch helplessly as the family home is consumed by fire, forced to listen to the screams of their family members as they slowly burn to death. This causes Kimie's mind to snap momentarily and she begins to laugh in a fit of hysterics, but Gen forces her to keep moving.

Soon after, Gen and his mother are taken to a safer area by a neighbor, Mr. Pak, where his mother goes into labor. The stress of recent events forces her to give premature birth. Gen leaves to find items and a midwife but is unable to and aids in the birth himself. Kimie successfully gives birth to a girl. Gen notes that Shinji was wrong about what the baby's gender would be. He is suddenly overcome by grief as he realizes that the dead members of his family will never get to see her. He then starts to search for food or help but is unable to find either, as everyone he encounters is either injured or dead and everything of value has been destroyed or is on fire. "Black rain" soon falls on the city, the result of the bomb that sent radioactive material and debris into the atmosphere over Hiroshima.

Later that night, Gen is unable to sleep due to the agonized screams of burned survivors nearby. He and his mother decide to get up and give the people water, as they are clamoring out of thirst, only to discover that they die soon after drinking it; they soon realize that thirst was the only instinct keeping them alive.

By August 8, Gen finds that soldiers have entered the city and are distributing rice, but arrives to find them collecting corpses before burning them in mass graves. He finds a fireman's hat, which becomes a signature part of his character. A short time later, he finds a soldier shivering from cold, despite the intense summer heat. Gen then notices that the soldier is losing his hair; when Gen tries to talk to him, the soldier begins defecating and vomiting blood.[1] He takes the soldier to the Red Cross hospital only to find out that he is being left for dead by the doctors there, who are puzzled by the soldiers strange symptoms but have no cure for this unknown sickness.

Simultaneously, his mother attempts to find milk for the baby as her breasts have run dry, and clamors to find a feeding mother to give her some, only to find a baby attempting to nurse from his mother's corpse. Another woman then attacks her and attempts to kill the baby, but quickly changes her mind, pointing out her baby has died and she has reacted out of despair. In her change of heart, she breastfeeds Kimie's baby.

After several days of wandering around for food, Gen finds a ration storehouse containing rice, only to find that most of it has been seared by the heat of the blast. After digging through and onto the lower bags in the stack, he then finds that some have not been seared and takes them to his mother to eat along with some fresh vegetables. Gen and his mother then decide to name the baby girl Tomoko, which they explain means "friend" [2] as Gen hopes she will be surrounded by many friends all her life. When Kimie points to bald spots on her son's head, Gen discovers his hair has started to fall out, and remembering the stricken soldier, panics, only to be reassured by his mother.

Shortly afterward, the United States Army sent an ultimatum to the Japanese government, either surrender or face another bombing. When the Japanese government refused, the Fat Man Atomic Bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, leveling half the city and suffering the same fate as Hiroshima.

Gen and his mother take refuge in a makeshift shack, and on August 16, dig up the skulls of their dead family members from the ruins of the former home. As they collect the remains, a passing family informs them that the war has finally ended, but only because Japan has surrendered unconditionally to the Allied powers. Gen and his mother respond angrily; his mother furiously stating that peace has come too late, and lamenting that had their leaders ended the war just a few days earlier, Hiroshima would not have been destroyed.

In the shack, Gen (who is now bald) and his mother eat as little of the rationed rice as possible in an attempt to save it while Tomoko sleeps, when a small boy, Ryuta, attempts to steal the rice. Gen stops him and brings him back only to be shocked by his physical resemblance to his late younger brother, Shinji. After speaking with Ryuta and feeding him, Gen and his mother learn he has been orphaned by the atomic bomb, and soon decide that he can stay with them; Kimie stating that she would wish for someone to look after Shinji in a similar situation. Surprised by their compassion, Ryuta begins to cry as they do their best to comfort him.

Soon after, Gen is cheered up by Ryuta, who has come to call him older brother, something which makes Gen feel proud and gives him a strong connection to his new friend. The following day, Gen and Ryuta head out to find food as Tomoko is suffering from malnutrition due to lack of milk, and are picked up by a man from out of town who takes them to tend for his sick brother, another bomb survivor, for 10 Yen per day. The two accept and find the man they will take care of has been horribly injured by the bomb, and is crude, rotting, and angry, his family rejecting him and his attitude. Despite his harshness, Gen and Ryuta decide to stay and take care of him regardless.

At one point they decide that the money's not worth it, and slap him and call him a spoiled brat, but just as they are about to leave, the man begs them to come back, and even asks them to hit him again. The man explains to the confused boys that he never gets human contact and the only company he gets are the boys who are paid to take care of him, who usually end up leaving. The two boys were the only ones who treated him like more than a rotting corpse. Feeling sorry for him, Gen tells Ryuta to tell his mother where they are, and stays with the man. Gen even spends the night with him, inspiring him to paint once again. Due to their commitment, when all of the others hired to care for him gave up or failed, the man's brother pays them 100 Yen, and the boys head out to find milk quickly, in hopes of bringing it back to feed Tomoko. As they arrive with the milk, they learn they are too late, as Tomoko has already died of malnutrition. Later, her body is then burned in a pyre, and Gen, angry and frustrated, cries out to his father for guidance.

Despite hearing that no grass would grow in Hiroshima for seventy years, Gen and Ryuta find that the wheat is starting to grow, and Gen is excited to discover his hair is also growing back. Gen remembers how his Father told them no matter how much wheat is beaten down, it always grows back, and that his sons should be like the wheat. In his newfound optimism, Gen remembers the promise he made to Shinji of taking him to the river after school, and so, he builds a new wooden boat, placing a candle on the top. Two weeks after the bomb, Gen takes Ryuta and his mother to the river, where they light the candle and release the boat. They then watch and pray as the boat gently sails into the sunset, a symbol that despite the terrible events they have endured, those who have survived must continue to live on, as there will always be hope for a brighter future.

Voice cast Edit

Cast by region
Character Japanese voice actor English voice actor

(Streamline Pictures, 1995)

Gen Nakaoka Issei Miyazaki Catherine Battistone
Daikichi Nakaoka Takao Inoue Kirk Thornton
Kimie Nakaoka Yoshie Shimamura Iona Morris
Eiko Nakaoka Seiko Nakano Wendee Lee
Shinji Nakaoka Masaki Kōda Brianne Siddall
Ryuta Kondo Masaki Kōda Barbara Goodson
Hidezo Takeshi Aono Michael McConnohie
Boku Pak Junji Nishimura Ardwight Chamberlain
Seiji Yoshida Katsuji Mori Dan Woren
Hana Taeko Nakanishi Joyce Kurtz
Walla Kōichi Kitamura

Steve Bulen, Kurtz, McConnohie, Mike Reynolds, and Woren provide additional voices in the English version of the film.

Release Edit

Barefoot Gen was released in Japan in 1983 where it was distributed by Herald Enterprises. It was released in the United States on 13 June 1992 and dubbed by Streamline Pictures in 1995.

References Edit

Footnotes Edit

  1. This soldier is in fact suffering from severe radiation poisoning, although the effects of radiation on the human body were not well understood in 1945.
  2. Like many Japanese given names, Tomoko (ともこ, トモコ) can be written using different kanji characters, and therefore can have several meanings, including "friendly child," "knowing child," "wise child," or "beautiful girl."