Land of Disaster

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The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 ushered in a whole new era of horror to Japan. The aftermath of the disaster was unimaginably grotesque -- and made worse by the fact that it was manmade. The response from many Japanese writers and filmmakers was to displace the trauma by addressing it in oblique, fantastical ways, through monsters and allegorical realms; the nuclear attacks and their long-lasting aftermath of radiation poisoning, as described below by Masuji Ibuse in his 1966 novel Black Rain, may have been, for many, simply too painful to address head-on. Above, children in Hiroshima in 1948 protect themselves from radiation.

"It felt as though night were drawing in, but after I'd been home for a while I realized that it was dark because of the clouds of black smoke filling the sky.... I wasn't aware until Uncle Shigematsu told me that my skin looked as though it had been splashed with mud. My white short-sleeved blouse was soiled in the same way, and the fabric was damaged at the soiled spots. When I looked in the mirror, I found that I was spotted all over with the same color except where I had been covered by my air-raid hood.... I suddenly remembered a shower of black rain that had fallen after Mr. Nojima had got us in the black market boat. It must have been about 10 a.m. Thundery black clouds had borne down on us from the direction of the city, and the rain from them had fallen in streaks the thickness of a fountain pen. It had stopped almost immediately. It was cold, cold enough to make one shiver although it was midsummer." &mdash Black Rain, Masuji Ibuse


Then there's anime and manga: the wild collective subconscious of Japanese cartoon fiction, where the apocalypse is ruled by erotic demon-beasts, as in the Overfiend series, or dominated by the magical powers of young girls, as in Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and his most recent film, Ponyo, in which a young fish-girl causes a destructive tsunami when she attempts to become human. Many of the great anime and manga classics take place in millennial universes, including the Evangelion and Akira series. Evangelion is the story of a war between a para-military unit and a group of avenging Angels in a Tokyo that has been devastated by earthquake and tsunami following a mega-explosion. Says Napier, it's "really ... about psychological apocalypse -- about generations and ... an internal sense of unease and concern about the future."

She adds, "That's why it's so tragic what's going on right now with the earthquake -- it's fulfilling a lot of inchoate worries that have been floating around in Japan the last 10 years or so." Above, an image from Evangelion.

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