Children of Hiroshima

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Children of Hiroshima
Genbaku no ko 3.jpg
HepburnGembaku no ko
Directed byKaneto Shindō
Written by
  • Kaneto Shindō
  • Arata Osada (book)
Produced byKōzaburō Yoshimura
StarringNobuko Otowa
CinematographyTakeo Itō
Edited byZenju Imaizumi
Music byAkira Ifukube
Release date
  • August 6, 1952 (1952-08-06)
Running time
98 Minutes[1][2]

Children of Hiroshima (原爆の子, Gembaku no ko, lit. "Children of the Atomic Bomb") is a 1952 Japanese drama film directed by Kaneto Shindō. It was entered into the 1953 Cannes Film Festival.[3]


Takako Ishikawa (Nobuko Otowa) is a teacher on an island in the inland sea off the coast of post-war Hiroshima. During her summer holiday, she takes the ferry to her hometown Hiroshima to visit the graves of her parents and younger sister, who were killed in the bomb attack. She sees a beggar and recognises him as Iwakichi (Osamu Takizawa), a former servant of her parents, now burned on the face and partially blind. She follows him to his poor shack, where he is looked after by a woman living next door, and asks about his family. With his wife, his son and daughter-in-law dead, Iwakichi's only surviving relative is his grandson Tarō, who lives in an orphanage. Takako visits the orphanage and finds the children barely have enough to eat. She offers to take Iwakichi and his grandson back with her, but Tarō refuses, running away.

Takako goes on to visit Natsue Morikawa, a former colleague at the kindergarten where she used to teach, and now a midwife. Natsue has been rendered sterile as an aftereffect of the bomb, and is planning to adopt a child with her husband. Natsue and Takako visit the site of the kindergarten, which is now destroyed, and Takako decides to visit the students of the kindergarten.

The father of the first student she visits, Sanpei, has suddenly been taken ill from a radiation-related illness and dies just before she arrives. Another one of the students is terminally ill and dying in a church, where many people with bomb-related injuries are gathered.

After staying the night in Natsue's house, she then goes to visit another student, Heita. His sister (Miwa Satō), who has an injured leg, is just about to get married, and Takako dines with her. She talks to Heita's older brother Kōji (Jūkichi Uno) about the people who died or were injured in the war.

She returns to Iwakichi's house and asks him again to let her take Tarō back to the island. At first he refuses, but later his neighbour convinces him to let Takako take care of Tarō. However, Tarō still refuses to leave his grandfather. On the last evening before Takako's departure, Iwakichi invites Tarō for a meal, gives him new shoes he bought for him, and sends him to Takako with a letter. Then he sets his house on fire. He survives the fire but is badly burned and eventually dies. Tarō leaves Hiroshima together with Takako, carrying his grandfather's ashes.



The film was commissioned by the Japan Teachers Union and was based on first-person testimonies gathered by Japanese educator Arata Osada, collected in the 1951 book Children of the Atomic Bomb.[4] The end of the post-war occupation of Japan by American forces allowed the production of works addressing the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagaski.[5]


The film was successful in Japan when initially released and had its international premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, but the Japan Teachers Union, which had commissioned the film, criticized its "outsider" view of the physical and personal devastation of the bombing and especially the lack of clear political and social criticism, concentrating instead on the stories of a few individuals. The union then commissioned another film, Hiroshima (released in 1953), by director Hideo Sekigawa, which was far more graphic in its depiction of the bombing's aftermath and far more critical of both American and Japanese leaders who had brought about the disaster.[5]

Children of Hiroshima was met with widely positive reviews upon its re-release, with the film's American debut in 2011. In a review of the film, where he also comments on its place in Kaneto Shindō's career, New York Times critic A.O. Scott remarks: "Mr. Shindo combines austerity and sensuality to stirring, sometimes mesmerizing effect. The beauty of the compositions in “Children of Hiroshima” — the clarity of focus, the graceful balance within the frames — provides some relief from the grimness of his subject. […] He contemplates Japan’s wartime experience with regret, rather than indignation".[6]

In The Village Voice, J. Hoberman called it "a somber melodrama" which lacks in subtlety but has "the capacity to wound".[7] Film scholar Alexander Jacoby resumed, "it remains one of Shindo’s most moving films, and a testament to the anti-war spirit that took root in Japan after its defeat".[8]

Already in 1959, film historian Donald Richie had pointed out what he saw as the film's major weakness, its "coupling of the most lifelike naturalism with truly excessive sentimentality", but emphasized that "it showed the aftermath of the bomb without any vicious polemic".[9]

The film holds a score of 86/100 on review aggregation site Metacritic.[10]


  1. ^ a b "原爆の子 (Children of Hiroshima)". Japanese Movie Database (in Japanese). Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  2. ^ a b "原爆の子 (Children of Hiroshima)" (in Japanese). Kinema Junpo. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  3. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Gembaku no ko". Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  4. ^ Bajo, Toshiko (November 20, 2009). "Translations of "Children of the Atomic Bomb" grow in number". Hiroshima Peace Media Center. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  5. ^ a b Watanabe, Kazu (May 3, 2018). "A Tale of Two Hiroshimas". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  6. ^ Scott, A.O. (April 21, 2011). "Japanese Survivors Shaded by Puzzlement and Sorrow". The New York Times. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  7. ^ Hoberman, J. (April 20, 2012). "Surviving the Bomb in Children of Hiroshima". The Village Voice]. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  8. ^ Jacoby, Alexander (November 18, 2013). "Classical virtues: Shindo Kaneto and Yoshimura Kozaburo". The British Film Institute. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  9. ^ Anderson, Joseph L.; Richie, Donald (1959). The Japanese Film – Art & Industry. Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company.
  10. ^ "Children of Hiroshima Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved July 17, 2016.

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