In my search of my grandfather’s past it was the critical thinking of the film’s main protagonists Chizuko Uchida and Shuntaro Hida that made me understand that in our family, just as in the majority of Japan’s population, thoughts about the atom bomb have usually been repressed. Not only my grandfather has been silent throughout of his life, also his family has asked him virtually no questions and never brought his illness in connection with the radiation to which he had been exposed in Hiroshima.
There are various reasons why many atom bomb victims have kept silent. On the one hand, with many of them the trauma was most severe; on the other hand, it was at the time of the American occupation strictly forbidden to speak about details of the atom bomb and its effects. Many also concealed that they had been exposed to radiation for fear of social discrimination; too big was the risk to find neither work nor marriage partner.
The political climate in the 1950s was also unfavourable to the revealing of critical facts regarding the atom bomb and its effects. The Americans conducted at that time one nuclear bomb test after another and propagated the ‘peaceful uses’ of atomic energy. Any information about the destructive side of this technology was in the way; and the Japanese Government followed this course.
So the silence in my grandfather’s family led me on the track of larger social and political repression processes which have become the main themes of the film.
When in 2010, I started with my first researches I could not foresee that a year later the Fukushima nuclear disaster would take me back into the present. But the unthinkable happened, and one thing became frighteningly clear to me: The silence might be repeated after Fukushima. Society and politics today again build on the expectation that people want to look forward and to forget the unpleasant. Too important is the nuclear industry in Japan; too difficult it is to imagine a radical turn.
But at first, I was still full of hope. After the atomic disaster, thousands of people demonstrated against the restart of the decommissioned nuclear power plants. I was not the only one who thought that Fukushima would finally open the people’s eyes and lead to big changes. But even though many went on the streets and seventy percent of the population said in surveys to be for the nuclear power phase-out, this was soon no longer an issue in everyday life. And today, almost five years after Fukushima, the media hardly report about the damaged nuclear plant, although contaminated water flows still daily into the sea.
Whereas shortly after Fukushima the nuclear phase-out was decided in Japan, the Government of Prime Minister Abe is now on the opposite course. The first reactor has been put back into operation and despite massive protests the remains of the contaminated tsunami debris have been spread across the country and been burned in poorly equipped refuse incineration plants. Meanwhile almost 100’000 refugees of the reactor disaster still live in temporary emergency dwellings. When the compensation payments expire in 2018 financial reasons will force many of them to return to areas that are released by the Government but still contaminated.
Although many Japanese feel pessimistic about these developments it is important not to give up, as do the protagonists of my film who since Hiroshima and despite all adversities have made it their task not to keep silent and to fight actively for the rights of the victims. I am very touched by their great strength and also by the lightness and relaxed determination with which they pursue their goal. In the meeting with them, I realized that their most original drive is a great love of life. Nothing characterizes Chizuko Uchida better than her saying that with her modest means she wants to protect any ever so little life – in contrast to a policy that wants to protect the country with great power and military strength. And Shuntaro Hida once said: “In Hirohshima, any ever so noble person with ever so sophisticated thoughts was wiped out like an insect.” Since he saw that, he said, he knows how much life should be appreciated above all and that he would fight for the protection and preservation of human life as long as his feet would carry him. Chizuko Uchida and Shuntaro Hida are people with great moral courage who deeply impress me.