(Mainichi Japan) March 24, 2012
Remembering and remaking that which was destroyed

In this column, I have on previous occasions introduced the tireless efforts by filmmaker Masaaki Tanabe, 74, and others to record what happened to Hiroshima many decades ago. Now, their production panel is making serious progress on a computer graphics film reproducing scenes of pre-bombing Hiroshima within a kilometer of what was to become, on Aug. 6, 1945, ground zero of an atomic blast. Part of the film was unveiled to the public last week.

The crew of the "Enola Gay" B-29 bomber that carried the "Little Boy" atom bomb used central Hiroshima's Aioi Bridge as their bombing target. The film segment released last week shows groups of houses and buildings as well as lush stands of trees near the T-shaped bridge that could be seen before being reduced to ash by the nuclear blast.

Hiroshima was built on a river delta on the coast of the Seto Inland Sea, and the Aioi Bridge area would have smelled pleasantly of water and leaves. During the scorching summer people must have relished the shady embrace of the trees and the river breezes in the evening. Nearby, the ornate facade of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall kept silent watch. After the blast, the building would go by another name: the Atomic Bomb Dome.

When Japan was about to enter the era of economic growth that was the post-war reconstruction period, people in Hiroshima were divided over whether to demolish the dome. There were people who insisted on preserving it in order not to forget the importance of peace and pass it on to future generations. Others wanted the building torn down because they did not want to be reminded of the horrors of the atomic bomb.

My late mother belonged to the latter group. In order to get to the heart of the city by tram, people had to cross the Aioi Bridge. It is still so even today. The Atomic Bomb Dome is just east of the span, and my mother told me she always averted her eyes from the skeletal structure when she was crossing the bridge.

She was only 1.5 kilometers from the hypocenter when the bomb went off, and was exposed to radiation from the blast. She remained reluctant to talk about the experience her entire life. Then again, hers is only one example of attitudes held by A-bomb survivors.

Nevertheless, my mother used to talk nostalgically about the splendor and beauty of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall before it became the anti-nuclear icon it is today. Perhaps it symbolized the cheerfulness of the city in the pre-war era. It was designed by famous Czech architect Jan Letzel, and the copper dome was the highlight of the Hiroshima skyline. I believe my mother spoke of the hall out of a strong fascination with the structure.

The dome was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996, and there was no more debate on the fate of the building. My mother had already passed away by that time, so I can't ask her how she feels about it.

However, I now rather wish I could show her vibrant pre-war Hiroshima and the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall reproduced in CG -- the hall that she was always so keen to describe.

Filmmaker Tanabe and others built the recreation from rare photographs, archives and first-person descriptions, and the film is expected to be completed in three years. Though they have already collected so much, the crew continue to search out more materials and witnesses to the pre-war city.

I wonder if their efforts to reproduce the Hiroshima scenes that vanished in a mere instant of fire could provide some hints to reproducing the region devastated by last year's Great East Japan Earthquake.

In Hiroshima, there were movements to bring local residents and A-bomb victims together by reproducing maps of pre-war residential areas in the 1960s and preserving "pictures of the atomic bombing" in the 1970s.

Above all, I believe that it is time for young people to apply fresh ideas to reproduce pre-disaster Tohoku.

(By Kenji Tamaki, Expert Senior Writer)

毎日新聞 2012年3月20日 東京朝刊

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