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Hiroshima (1994) Hiroshima (1994)
Kureyoshi KURAHARA
Roger Spottiswoode
Hisashi IGAWA
Kenneth Welsh
Richard Masur
Saul Rubinek
195 mins.

Similar to the 1970 portrait of the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbour Tora! Tora! Tora!, Hiroshima is an East-West co-production about one of the decisive moments of World War II. In this case, the co-production is between Japan and Canada, as interestingly no Americans (apart from a number of actors) were involved.

As the title suggests, this lengthy made-for-television film concerns the events surrounding the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. It is a unique combination of dramatised historic events (with the top political and military figures of the day portrayed by actors), newsreel and army archive footage, and testimonial interviews with the actual people who were involved in many different capacities - from political advisors to soldiers to civilian eye witnesses.

The combination of documentary and dramatization works incredibly well. Beautifully interwoven, these two aspects are never at odds, but feel as a harmonious unity throughout despite being shot by two directors and two crews. One gets a good impression of the characters of the major players, and their feelings about the drastic decision of whether or not to throw this devastating bomb (whose true power is sorely underestimated by all involved - not even the scientists seemed to know of the dreadful effects of radiation).

On the Japanese side, there is a surprising openness towards the doubts that plagued many (including emperor Hirohito) about continuing the war after Germany's defeat and in the face of a full-scale allied invasion. Here too, pros and cons fight and bicker towards a final decision which we know will never come. Interestingly, the emperor himself hardly plays a role of importance. Decisions in his name are taken by a small elite group of military and political figures, while Hirohito, in hiding, has no say in the matter.

Hiroshima manages to be both harrowing and enthralling. Despite being a long haul at over three hours (most tv stations will probably broadcast it in two parts), it never once drags. On the contrary; the further the story advances, the more tense and engaging the film becomes. Like that other, thematically similar, made-for-television powerhouse The Day After (1983 - Nicholas Meyer), Hiroshima far outgrows its small screen roots and proves to be high-calibre, thought-provoking cinema.

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