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1953 Hiroshima film with some 90,000 extras back in theaters with English subtitles

This image shows a scene from the subtitled version of "Hiroshima." (c) Passion for Miracle (Nuclear abolition project)

HIROSHIMA -- Created and released eight years after the U.S. military dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, "Hiroshima," a vivid cinematic recreation of the events in the city, is being reshown in Kyoto and Hiroshima this month, digitally remastered with English subtitles.

The film, directed by Hideo Sekigawa, was a large-scale production with some 90,000 people including Hiroshima residents performing as extras, but it only had a limited run in theaters, leaving it with a reputation as a "phantom movie."

Kai Kobayashi is seen holding a flyer for new screenings of the movie "Hiroshima" with English subtitles, at the Hatchoza movie theater in Naka Ward, Hiroshima, on July 17, 2019. (Mainichi/Azusa Hinata)

The revival project was taken on by Hachioji-based movie producer Kai Kobayashi, 46. His grandfather had worked on the project and his father strived to have the movie rescreened, but died before he could complete the venture.

"I want to communicate the meaning of 'that day' even to young people abroad," Kobayashi said.

Based on "Children of Hiroshima," "Genbaku no Ko" in Japanese, a collection of writings by girls and boys who were affected by the bomb, the film starred Yumeji Tsukioka, a Hiroshima native, and was released in 1953. Citizens served as extras to recreate the mass confusion of the time. People also offered bowls and other possessions they had from the blast as props for the film.

Although well received, its producers and distributors were at odds as to whether to cut some of its more raw scenes, and ultimately it did not get a wide release.

Kobayashi's grandfather Taihei, who died in 2008, was the film's assistant director. His film producer father Ippei was working to get the film reshown. Additionally, to enable foreign people to learn about the events of Hiroshima, he enlisted voluntary help from university students to translate the dialogue into English. But he died in 2015 before the project could be completed.

Kobayashi took up the work after his father passed away. "This film transcends nationality and creed, it can be understood by the people of the world," he thought. In 2017 he successfully digitized the film, and now work on an English-subtitled version is complete.

On July 16, he invited 12 foreigners to a preview showing. He says they were left with strong impressions from scenes of children dying while crying for their mothers, and that it also gave them a sense of the revitalized Hiroshima's atmosphere.

"I want to help return the feelings of my grandfather, my father and survivors of the atomic bombing with this film, by turning it into one that can be seen by anyone, forever," Kobayashi said.

Yuriko Hayashi, an extra in "Hiroshima," who experienced the true events in August 1945, is seen in Asaminami Ward, Hiroshima, on July 19, 2019. (Mainichi/Azusa Hinata)

Yuriko Hayashi, 82, of Asaminami Ward, Hiroshima, performed as an extra in the film. Aged nine when the bomb fell, she was some 1.6 kilometers away from the blast center at home in Dotecho, which is now part of Minami Ward.

Her mother, who was with her at the time, was covered in blood after shards of glass scattered by the blast pierced her skin. As they walked to escape the town, which was engulfed in flames, she says they saw countless bodies.

Hayashi's notes make up some of the material in the book "Children of Hiroshima" that the film is based on, which led her to decide to help in the creation of its screen adaptation.

She says the team worked tirelessly to collect rubble and rags for the film's production. At the time she also advised the filmmakers on what it had been like at the time, telling them the smoke was thick, and people's blood looked like it ran black.

Looking back on the filming, she says, "I thought I should say what I had to as someone who was in Hiroshima at the time (of the bombing)."

Although the film is in black-and-white, she says, "The film reminded me of what it was like at the time, and our faces covered in black-red blood, the color of the flames, the heat and the smell came back to me."

She's considering seeing the film again, and says she's interested in English, too. "I'd like to convey my experiences to people abroad someday," she said.

The version of the film with English subtitles is being shown until Aug. 8 at the Hatchoza movie theater in Hiroshima's Naka Ward. The venue can be contacted by telephone on 082-546-1158 (in Japanese only).

The film will then be screened at the Demachiza movie theater in Kyoto's Kamigyo Ward from Aug. 10 to 23. Their telephone number is 075-203-9862 (in Japanese only).

(Japanese original by Azusa Hinata, Hokuriku General Bureau)

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