News Column

FEATURE: Original drawings from "Barefoot Gen" show horrors of war

July 24, 2014

Keiji Hirano

Prior to the 69th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a gallery in a Tokyo suburb is holding a special exhibition of original drawings from a famous manga on the subject.

At the Maruki Gallery for the Hiroshima Panels in Higashimatsuyama, Saitama Prefecture, known for its collection of works related to the atomic bombings, 24 color drawings from the cartoon story "Barefoot Gen" (Hadashi no Gen) are being shown to the public.

The work by late cartoonist Keiji Nakazawa is based on his own experience of the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing of Hiroshima as a 6-year-old boy. In the story, "Gen" tries to survive the devastation -- which in real life claimed the lives of Nakazawa's father and siblings.

The story was serialized between 1973 and 1987 as a 10-volume manga series, while a digest version containing the 24 drawings was also published.

Among the drawings displayed at the gallery is one depicting the moment the bomb exploded, while others show the suffering of the victims -- walking naked through the street as their skin peels off -- and countless bodies piled up or being carried downriver.

Gen's father and siblings burned to death after becoming trapped in the rubble of their home, according to the drawings.

While Barefoot Gen has been recognized for its role in passing down the legacy of the atomic bombing to succeeding generations, last year a local authority sought to have access to the work restricted.

The education board of Matsue city in Shimane Prefecture asked municipal primary and junior high schools to prevent students from reading the comic series on the grounds that it contains scenes and language not suitable for young people, although it later withdrew the request.

"We organized this exhibition because we were roused by the developments in Matsue," said Yukinori Okamura, curator of the Maruki Gallery. "It is unacceptable if they try to keep certain kinds of works away from the public."

"People now tend to see only self-serving aspects of history, but Gen portrays the misery of the war beyond national boundaries," Okamura said.

The Maruki Gallery is named after Iri and Toshi Maruki, who depicted the horrors of the atomic bombings over 32 years from 1950 in a series of 15 large panels -- each standing 1.8 meters by 7.2 meters.

Of the 15 panels, 14 are displayed at the gallery, while the remaining work -- "Nagasaki" -- is owned by Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.

The husband-and-wife team also made other tragedies, including the Auschwitz concentration camp, the Nanjing Massacre and Minamata Disease, the subject of their paintings.

Iri died in October 1995 at the age of 94, while Toshi passed away in January 2000 at 87. They were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995.

"I believe we should maintain various ways of passing down the history of Hiroshima," said Okamura, underlining why it is important to hold the "Barefoot Gen" exhibition at the gallery.

"I expect visitors to enjoy the colorful drawings but also to appreciate the acute contrast between life and death, as one picture depicts the birth of Gen's sister while Hiroshima people are dying in catastrophic circumstances," he added.

Barefoot Gen has so far been translated into 17 languages, including Chinese, English, French, Persian, Russian and Spanish, and the translations are also displayed at the gallery.

Nakazawa died of lung cancer in December 2012 at the age of 73.

The Maruki Gallery is planning to have another special exhibition in autumn, featuring Godzilla, to mark the 60th anniversary of a U.S. hydrogen bomb test on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

The Godzilla movie depicts a monster from the deep that is awoken by the U.S. hydrogen bomb test and comes to attack Tokyo.

On March 1, 1954, a Japanese trawler Fukuryu Maru No. 5, or Lucky Dragon, was exposed to radioactive fallout from the test while fishing about 160 kilometers east of the atoll. Six months later, the chief radio operator died at the age of 40, triggering antinuclear protests in Japan.

The Barefoot Gen exhibition runs through Sept. 6 and is closed Mondays. For further information, call the Maruki Gallery at 0493-22-3266.

For more stories covering arts and entertainment, please see HispanicBusiness' Arts & Entertainment Channel

Source: Japan Economic Newswire

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