Barefoot Gen 2

Barefoot Gen 2


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

It is 1948, three years after 'Pika' fell on Hiroshima and the city is beginning to rebuild itself from the ruins. Gen, though still haunted by the deaths of most of his family, is back in school with his adopted brother Ryuta, even if they spend all their free time scavenging for food and money. A chance encounter leads Gen to befriend the teenaged Masa and his gang of street orphans. After their squat is flooded, Gen helps them build a new house and becomes a part of their improvised family - but when he learns that his own mother is dying as a result of exposure to radiation, he and Masa embark on various schemes to raise enough money for the impossibly expensive new miracle drug 'penicillin'.

Like Barefoot Gen (1983), Barefoot Gen 2 is based on Keiji Nazakawa's manga memoirs of his childhood in Hiroshima, but with its emphasis shifting from the incomprehensible atomic holocaust of 1945 to the early years of the city's reconstruction, the film's sense of hope for the future makes it inevitably less harrowing than its predecessor - even if it reprises in flashback all the original's most horrific scenes lest they be forgotten.

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Yet, while Barefoot Gen 2 may play itself out on the surface as a sort of plucky boys' own adventure, this animated feature allows glimpses of far grimmer realities to be exposed - the deterioration of Gen's mother, the pariah status of a young burn victim, the crippling depression suffered by an elderly man, an orphan killed merely for stealing potatoes, children left to freeze to death in the winter, the utter lack of food or medication, the drift of the dispossessed towards criminality, and the mountains of corpses unceremoniously bulldozed into pits.

Offsetting the gloom, however, are images of gradual renewal - the resumption of the tram service, new buildings built from the wreckage of old, the formation of social groupings to replace lost families, and, perhaps most symbolically, the copper from spent bullets being converted by survivors into hard cash for medicine. All this is dominated by Gen's youthful exuberance and optimism, every bit as infectious as, if far more salubrious than, Pika's radioactive fallout - even if his insistence on being upbeat even about the death of his own mother seems just the wrong side of manic. In the first film Gen had been advised by his farming father (now dead) to be strong and resilient like wheat - and here the simile returns (perhaps a few too many times for some viewers' tastes), as Gen keeps springing back to life now matter how harsh the adversities that he faces, nourishing hopes for Japan's future.

Nonetheless, Hideo Takayashaki's screenplay also leaves room for a certain amount of cynicism about the fundamental immutability of human nature. In one memorable scene, as a school teacher gives a lesson on Japan's new post-war constitution and its renunciation of war forevermore, his bored and uncomprehending pupils begin throwing projectiles at one another. How easily the dangers of belligerence slip from the memory...

Reviewed on: 22 Dec 2005
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Sequel charts the further adventures of the plucky schoolboy in post-nuclear bomb Japan.
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Director: Toshio Hirata

Writer: Hideo Takayashaki

Starring: Issei Miyazaki, Masaki Koda, Kai Nakamura, Kimi Aoyama, Yoshie Shimamura, Takao Inoue

Year: 1986

Runtime: 85 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: Japan


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