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Hiroshima students create documentary on 'short-lived village' exposed to black rain

In the documentary produced by university students, Masaaki Takano places his hands together in front of a gravestone near a crematory that was expanded after the atomic bombing. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Media Business at Hiroshima University of Economics)

HIROSHIMA -- Despite numerous people falling ill in a Hiroshima Prefecture settlement affected by the "black rain" that fell after the August 1945 atomic bombing, the area was not covered by the government's relief program for A-bomb survivors. Now, three university students have made a documentary that sheds light on its story.

    "I'm 20 years old. I didn't know about 'black rain' until now. Why were these people shut out from government support?" Marika Nishino's narration says in the 20-minute film, titled "76 years after the black rain, from a village called Tanmei-son." "Tanmei-son" means "short-lived village," and the documentary laments the death of "so many young children" there.

    It was in February this year that the three third-year students in the Department of Media Business at Hiroshima University of Economics in the city of Hiroshima started to cover the settlement for the documentary. At that time, an appeal was pending at the Hiroshima High Court in a "black rain" class action lawsuit involving 84 plaintiffs. They were exposed to the radioactive rain outside the area covered by the government-designated relief zone, and filed a lawsuit seeking the issuance of A-bomb survivor's certificates.

    The students focused on the town of Yuki (present-day part Saeki Ward, Hiroshima), about 20 kilometers northwest of the hypocenter, where a river through the town divided those eligible for relief from those who weren't. One of the main interviewees was Masaaki Takano, 83, the leader of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

    Marika Nishino, right, and Meiko Okuhara interview a black rain survivor in Saeki Ward, Hiroshima, on Feb. 11, 2021. They filmed a total of five people closely for six months. (Mainichi/Misa Koyama)

    On Aug. 6, 1945, the day the U.S. military dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Takano was hit by a downpour following the bombing. The students recorded footage of Takano sitting by the river, testifying that he used the river water for daily use as well as for drinking on a regular basis.

    In the film, the narrator Nishino, who was also an interviewer, notes that to date, attention has been focused on whether people were exposed to the black rain, then asks, "But was there any exposure from drinking the contaminated water? In other words ... was there any possibility of internal radiation exposure, which has been underestimated to date?"

    The national government claimed in the lawsuit that "if the exposure dose is the same, the health effects from internal radiation exposure are the same or lower than those caused by external exposure (or direct exposure to radiation)." However, the Hiroshima High Court's ruling in July this year accepted the plaintiffs' argument and pointed out that the danger of internal exposure is "much higher than that of external exposure." The court recognized all of the plaintiffs as A-bomb survivors.

    At that time, then Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga decided not to appeal, but in a statement, he criticized the ruling's assertion that the effects of internal radiation exposure should be widely recognized as "unacceptable." The government has expressed the same view on the effects of internal exposure over the March 2011 accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

    In the documentary filmed by university students, Masaaki Takano testified that he drank water from the river even after the black rain fell. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Media Business at Hiroshima University of Economics)

    Meiko Okuhara, 20, who was in charge of filming, said, "I thought the atomic bombing and war were issues that were over. But people don't know about them and the issues have not been solved. They are connected to us as well."

    Another featured person in the documentary was Minoru Honke, 81, a plaintiff who was exposed to black rain in the town of Yuki when he was 5 years old. He said in the film that his younger brother, who was with him and was 2 years old at the time, died a month after the rain.

    Takano also told the students that his two uncles died soon after the rain, and that the settlement had been called a "short-lived village" by the locals.

    As "proof," Takano took the students to a place where bodies were cremated after the bombing and said to the camera, "Many young children died in this settlement. There was one incinerator for adults, but it wasn't enough, so we set up two incinerators for children, and we had to cremate three people at once."

    The students went out for interviews for more than 30 days over six months. The length of the recorded footage exceeded 132 hours. Naoto Kajioka, 21, who was in charge of sound and interview negotiations, said he had heard A-bomb testimonies before, but this was the first time he had listened to a detailed account of the black rain.

    "I found out that they have suffered from many diseases even if they were not exposed to external radiation. I wish that my generation would learn about it especially because of the current situation where nuclear development is still being carried out," Kajioka said.

    The documentary, which includes scenes of the plaintiffs receiving their A-bomb survivor certificates, closes with a quiet plea from the narrator Nishino.

    "It took 76 years because we pretended we didn't know. But we did learn about internal exposure. The black rain is not merely an issue of the past, it is our present and our future. So let's look at it, again and again. Black rain."

    The work is also available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBDYKl3Pgh8

    (Japanese original by Misa Koyama, Hiroshima Bureau)

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