Saturday, July 14, 2012

The List: Top 5 Animated Nuclear Explosions (NSFW)


One thing that I like to do is making lists, especially ranked lists. Countdowns are one of the joys in my life. Well, one thing I can do on this blog is make countdowns based on topics in animation. I've already been doing some of this through my rankings of my favorite Oscar nominated films every ten years, and I'll do things on other animation-related topics from time to time. And this first one is something that had been bouncing around in my head since I saw The Big Snit for the first time back in 2007: the top five animated atomic explosions.

And yes, in case you hadn't seen it before, NSFW means Not Safe For Work. Even though these next scenes are animated, there are still images that are quite graphic. You have been warned.

The bombing of  Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945 ushered in the terrible new frontier of atomic warfare. The devastation and destruction of those two cities had helped bring World War II to a close, but it also made people aware of the terrifying reality that there are weapons out there that can end not just a war but also the world. This fear came to an apex with the announcement that the Soviet Union had nuclear warheads of their own. Americans began to prepare for the possibility of nuclear attack. The famous 1951 partly animated documentary film Duck and Cover educated citizens about what to do in case of a nuclear explosion, although later atomic tests and tales from Hiroshima showed these efforts to be quite futile. Yet the danger of a real nuclear apocalypse never seemed more real than with the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, especially since the Soviet Union tested their 50 megaton Tsar Bomba the year before, over 1,000x stronger than the bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, combined. Yet the crisis passed with no atomic explosions. Now it has been over 20 years since the Soviet Union has dissolved, but even today the threat is palatable. Rogue countries like North Korea and Iran are rumored to have nuclear programs, and terrorist groups are always trying to come up with ways to spread their messages of terror. Yet to date Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the only cities to feel the full effect of nuclear warfare. Let us hope that it remains that way.

In the years since the Cuban Missile Crisis, the art industry began focusing on the atomic age. Some artists looked back at the tragedy in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, while others looked forward at the possibility of nuclear attack. Films like The Big Snit using nuclear war as a backdrop or a plot device became common. Animation became an invaluable tool for artists, as it allows for a more vivid depiction of a nuclear explosion and its aftermath. These five films have all used the medium to highlight the horrors of a nuclear attack, as all five are anti-war in some elements.

I mean no disrespect with the post. I hope that films like these can reach a larger audience to remind us never to forget the horrors of nuclear warfare.
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5. Jumping (1984)
Let's start with the lightest of the films. Osamu Tezuka has made a name for himself as the God of Manga, but he's dabbled in animation over the years. His most famous work is without a doubt Astro Boy, based on his own manga. Jumping came later in his life. It features a young child (presumably a boy) who decides to go "jumping" one day, although his jumping seems more like Tigger's bouncing. He starts out going along a country road, but launches himself through the woods, into the industrial and later urban areas of the city, and finally across the sea. And the entire film is seen from his perspective. Jumping is often classified as an experimental film, as it uses animation for more artistic merits than trying to tell a tale. Then again, it feels stylistically similar to the Hungarian animated film A Legy (The Fly), the Oscar winning film that we'll be reviewing in about a month's time. Anyways, so what does Jumping have to do with nuclear explosions? Well, after jumping across the sea our adventurous child ends up in the middle of a war zone. He sees bombs blowing up, bullets flying, buildings burning. Finally a black shadow falls through the sky and detonates in a flash before transforming into the familiar mushroom cloud. This turn of events is quite unexpected compared to the quaint beginning, but it's quite possible that other than being a experimental film exploring the nature of movement in animation, it may also be a visual metaphor at the evolution of mankind. It begins in a rural setting and spreads out into the industrial and urban settings, but it inevitably leads to global conflict, with a weapon of mass destruction being the climax. And the fact that all this is seen through the eyes of an innocent child suggests that all this may be beyond our control. Osamu Tezuka was 16 years old when the bomb struck. He lived in Osaka and was spared the terrors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the impact of the event as well as his own experiences with fire-bombing at the end of the war led to the humanism in his work, and also in films like Jumping. What happens to the boy at the end? You'll have to watch the film to find out. The explosion happens around 5:21.


4. When the Wind Blows (1986)
Jim and Hilda Bloggs are an old British couple living in rural Sussex. The two are still governed very much by their old fashioned ideals, although Jim is trying to come to terms with the increasingly chaotic world. He listens to radio broadcasts about impending nuclear warfare and does his best to accommodate. They still think that surviving a nuclear war is similar to living through World War II, which they did when they were younger, but they are wholly unprepared for what lies ahead of them. This gritty animated film is based on a graphic novel by British author Raymond Briggs, who is best known for his story The Snowman, which was adapted into an Oscar-nominated short film. The film version of both Snowman and Wind were both directed by Oscar nominated animator Jimmy Murakami (who actually earned his nomination with the little seen The Magic Pear Tree from 1968). Anyways, When the Wind Blows is a film about a nuclear apocalypse that doesn't just deal with the actual explosion, but also focuses in-depth on an oft-forgotten consequence of nuclear attacks: radiation poisoning. Jim and Hilda may have survived the blast, which occurs 30 minutes into the 80-minute film, but the rest of the film focuses on their inevitable physical and mental deterioration. Their ignorant optimism only makes their eventual demise that much more difficult to watch. However, this list is about the nuclear explosion, and the explosion itself is quite devastating in this film. It begins with the typical flash, but rather than showing the advancing mushroom cloud it pans across the rural landscape to show the advancing clouds from afar. Then it cuts closer to the epicenter to show the immediate consequence. Helpless cars get tossed around. Buildings crumble. A train derails as the bridge it was crossing collapses. All the while repeating Hilda's last line before the explosion: "The cake will be burned!" The juxtaposition of the domestic worry with the images of mass destruction highlights the couple's lack of knowledge of what will befall them, and that is what makes this such a difficult film to watch. You can certainly watch the entire film if you want to depress yourself for the next couple of days, but for now here's the climactic nuclear blast scene.


3. Pikadon (1978)
Hiroshima. August 6, 1945. It is morning. The city of over 400,000 people began their daily life. A young family awakens, and their youngest child throwing a paper airplane. People crossing the Aioi Bridge stop to watch the waters of the beautiful Ota River. Commuters board trains to get to their destination. An American B-29 is spotted and air raid sirens begin to sound, but there were no incidents and people went on with their normal lives. A mother breast feeds her baby while her other child eats a snack. A family gets together in the streets to pose for a family picture. Then another B-29 flies by. It is 8:15. And the world will never be the same. Hiroshima and Nagasaki have a unique perspective on the nuclear explosion, as they are the only cities affected by nuclear attacks in the setting of war. This animated film by the husband-wife team of Renzo and Sayoko Kinoshita is an especially vivid look at the bomb. The title comes from the colloquial Japanese word referring to the atomic bomb. It refers to the two things that those who lived through the blast experienced. The first is the flash, which in Japan is known as "Pika" (yes, the same Pika that years later would become world-famous for Pikachu). The second is the blast: the "don." With Pikadon, the Kinoshitas come aiming for the heart...and the gut. The first half of the film is spent painting a quaint picture of daily life in the city, mostly oblivious to the fate that will befall them. And then the bomb comes 4:20 in. There are five seconds worth of pika seen from various points of view, and then comes the don. It appears to take footage of an atomic blast and then mattes over it. It lasts an excruciating 45 seconds, and doesn't even show you the developing mushroom cloud. And then comes the nightmarish destruction. Like When the Wind Blows, it shows buildings getting blown away, but then it goes way beyond that. That nursing mother from earlier? Her skin melts in the blast, with her eyes coming out of the socket. The streets are crawling with people half-dead and hopelessly disfigured by the blast. Even though it is all animated, it is unspeakably graphic. The YouTube version embedded here even cuts out a scene where a person melts down to the bone. Yet Pikadon end with a message. It shows the little boy throwing his paper airplane. He had never  been able to get it to go far, but this time it soars, flying across the sea and across the space-time continuum to Hiroshima of 30 years later, now a bustling metropolis. Somehow I feel like this is telling us that we should never forget, which is what this film is about. Anyways, here is the full version on Nico Nico Douga, if you have an account. Otherwise enjoy this lower quality YouTube version where the blast is only 10 seconds and where it cut out the scene with the guy melting to the bone.


2. A Short Vision (1956)
In the dead of night, a mysterious black aircraft flies swiftly through the night sky. It flies over the woods. The leopard and deer both saw it and hid in fear. When it flew over the fields, the owl and the rat both saw it and hid in fear. When it flew over the city, the people were all sleeping peacefully in their warm and cozy beds and did not see it, but their leaders saw it and waited in fear. It did not matter, because once the aircraft dropped its destructive cargo, it not only destroyed all who saw it, but all those who did not see it were destroyed as well. Peter Foldes was a visionary director who was born in Hungary and worked in Britain, France, and Canada. He was one of the first proponents of computer animation, which he used in his landmark 1974 Oscar-nominated film Hunger. Yet 18 years before Hunger he became notable for a completely different reason. The mid-1950s was a period of international nuclear terror. Both America and the Soviet Union had increasingly stronger warheads, ones that dwarfed the bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in destructive power. Castle Bravo, detonated in 1954, was the most powerful bomb detonated at the time, and remains the strongest ever detonated by the US. This nuclear arms race led Foldes and his wife Joan to make this film, whose simple animation and storyline belies the profound message that the film carries. The animation is a series of static images that follow one after another. And the story is pretty much what I've posted above, minus the powerful ending that you have to see for yourself. However, the message is pretty clear: when it comes to nuclear warfare there are no winners. You could be aware of it, or you could be hopelessly ignorant, but no matter what when the bombs strike you will be destroyed. Like the rest of the film, the explosion is done in static images that escalate to paint a picture of destruction. It starts out as a fireball in the night sky that spreads out in all directions until the entire landscape below burns up. And then for the next minute it highlights the damage of the blast on living things. The leader, the owl, the deer, and a young lady who couldn't sleep. They all had their face melt away leaving only a skeleton which is destroyed as well. The destruction of the leader was especially graphic. His eyes widen and water, then explode in a splash of blood and aqueous humor. His jaw becomes slack. His skin and muscles disappear, leaving only the skull. The other deaths were not quite as vivid, but the film still left a stark impression on viewers, especially in America. The film gained notoriety and a wide viewership when it aired on the Ed Sullivan Show, the popular variety show, on May 27, 1956. The host warned parents to "tell [their young children] not to be alarmed at this 'cause it's a fantasy, the whole thing is animated," but this warning was quite an understatement, as are still legions of baby boomers who are haunted by the memory. This may very well be the film's lasting legacy.


1. Barefoot Gen (1983)
Gen Nakaoka is a typical boy living in the city of Hiroshima. He has to make personal sacrifices as there are food shortages, but he still finds time to have fun with his brother Shinji. The Nakaokas are fortunate that Hiroshima was mostly spared from fire bombing, but his father is worried that the Americans are saving the city for something more terrifying. The morning of August 6 began on a high note. Gen gives Shinji a wooden battleship and promises to sail it with him after school. He heads off, but around 8:10 he notices a B-29 flying overhead. 31,600 feet in the air the B-29 unleashes their deadly cargo, and the lives of Gen and his family will change forever. This is it, the most iconic animated film based off of the Hiroshima bombing. It was based off of a manga of the same title by Keiji Nakazawa, a Hiroshima native who was six when the bomb fell. He survived the blast, but lost everybody else in his family except for his mother. He lived on, and eventually became a manga artist. The explosion at Hiroshima soon became a common theme in his works. In 1972, he wrote a manga called I Saw It, an autobiographical work based on his own experiences. He later published a larger work that explored not just the blast, but also the aftermath and a criticism on the militaristic society at the time. It was called Hadashi no Gen - Barefoot Gen. The manga was quite popular, and was one of the first to be translated into English. It spawned several live action films, and in 1983 it was adapted into an animated film. The first part of the film details life for the Nakaoka family in the days before August 6. Life is a struggle with rations and air raid warnings that turn out to be nothing, but they try to eke out a normal life. The bomb comes around 31 minutes into the film. The film cuts from Gen and his friend talking to the B-29, where the crew of the Enola Gay release the bomb. The bomb's descent is followed in a mostly static shot, where it becomes smaller until it disappears from sight. Then comes the flash and the rapidly rising mushroom cloud. And then the film enters Pikadon territory. In the original manga, Gen and a lady see the B-29. The B-29 drops the bomb. There is a flash and a blast. Buildings are destroyed and a mushroom cloud develops. It is epic, but nothing compared to the anime. Perhaps influenced by the Kinoshita film, the anime adaptation takes it to a whole new level. There are ten seconds worth of 'pika' seen from the vantage point of Gen (shielded by a wall as he bent down to pick up a pebble he dropped while tossing), his family, the Hiroshima Castle, and the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. Then come the 'don', and the animators spare no punches. A little girl holding a balloon has her clothes blown right off. Her skin is burned, and her eyeballs fall out. Several more people and a dog undergo this terrible transformation. The Promotion Hall is partially destroyed, leaving behind the iconic dome. The Hiroshima Castle is completely annihilated. Families get impaled by glass or wooden beams. Gen's family is spared from the initial blast but his mother falls from the balcony while the rest of his family is trapped by the collapsing house. Gen himself is blown away. And then comes the mushroom cloud in grotesque colors. The blast is memorable for its protracted length as well as its graphic nature. The rest of the film is pretty good, detailing Gen and his mother's struggle for survival in the aftermath, but whenever people think of Barefoot Gen, this is what they will remember. Nevertheless, here is the full film if you want to watch the message of hope in the end.

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Five films. Five grisly reminders of the horrors of nuclear warfare. Five examples of using animation to make a comment. I highly doubt that this will reach any major world leaders, but hopefully it can change minds about the futility of war.

7 comments:

  1. JUMPING
    "It features a young child (presumably a boy) who decides to go "jumping" one day, although his jumping seems more like Tigger's bouncing."

    I always assumed it was a girl myself, though we don't get any further than a few verbal gestures, a gasp, a yell and a sigh as I put it. The whole film really seems more like the kid imagining himself or herself being able to jump that high and what they might see in the process, though we don't get any real idea if this was meant to be like that.

    He starts out going along a country road, but launches himself through the woods, into the industrial and later urban areas of the city, and finally across the sea."

    I always assumed it started in a roughly suburban setting the way it looked, I only thought of it because I had seen roads like that near me anyway that were dirt-paved rather than stone. I suppose it is a tad rural in that respect, but certainly not too isolated given the few houses in the area.

    "Then again, it feels stylistically similar to the Hungarian animated film A Legy (The Fly), the Oscar winning film that we'll be reviewing in about a month's time."

    I also put Bill Plympton's "One Of Those Days" in the same boat as well for it's POV approach.

    "Osamu Tezuka was 16 years old when the bomb struck. He lived in Osaka and was spared the terrors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the impact of the event as well as his own experiences with fire-bombing at the end of the war led to the humanism in his work, and also in films like Jumping. What happens to the boy at the end? You'll have to watch the film to find out."

    It's true to note the humanism present in Tezuka's work, and how we treat the world around us (Italian animator Bruno Bozzetto also has simialr themes in his work too). I personally didn't see it quite the same way, but the escalation to a war setting could be seen as an inevitable part of life given the way the world is not as pefect as we see in both this film and in reality.

    I still love the end however, it's a nice sort of light-hearted approach to getting us back to square one again, though I can't help but think of the cyclical way it starts over again (or else the kid is simply imaginaging all of this in his mind while jumping on his own, as I use to thought when I first watched this many, many years ago on tape). A nice little bit in the film I still find amusing (when it's not the other little quick things to pause on like two familiar droids in an office building) is a billboard simply stating "ASIFA". This is the abbreviation for Association International du Film d'Animation" (trans. "International Animated Film Association"). I believe Tezuka was a member of this organization during his life and had contribute to one film prior to his death, a short 10 second "Self-portrait" that was seen in this compilation...
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwdo1_n8qS4

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  2. Incidentally, Jumping would mark a first time in 16 years since "The Genesis" in 1968 that Osamu Tezuka would come back to doing short films again. He spent much of the 70's mainly doing comics as usual while his former studio, Mushi Productions fell into bankruptcy and some of his creations ended up getting TV shows through other studios like Toei (Microid S and Jetter Mars). The 1980's saw a renewed interest in animation for Tezuka such as with the production of the 1980 film "Phoenix 2772", which featured a unique 3-D moving scene similar to what is shown in "Jumping" during the opening of the film. It actually took 3 years and some 4,000 drawings to complete "Jumping" I've heard. Tezuka originally wanted to handle the drawings as colored pencils or watercolors on paper before a decision was made to go with conventional celluloid sheets with the drawings xeroxed and painted. While Tezuka was credited for both direction and screenplay (I'm sure he merely make story/layout sketches of how he wanted the action to go), Junji Kobayashi was credited for key animation on this short and it impressed me he was able to keep up the timing and shifting angles quite well.

    I usually argue that Tezuka is a cartoonist first and animator second (or what involvement in animation he has, which seems to be mostly as a producer but often dabbles in design, story and direction rather than the added grunt work of doing keys, inbetweens and so-on, though I'm sure he's quite aware of the process quite well and worked with the adequate studio and staffers to see his vision come to fruition. if it's one thing to be said about Tezuka I always think about, is that he didn't to see the 1990's and where animation was heading during that time.

    Here's an interesting interview where Tezuka discusses his thoughts on experimental animation...
    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xb5zqb_osamu-tezuka-talking-about-experime_shortfilms


    WHEN THE WIND BLOWS
    "The film version of both Snowman and Wind were both directed by Oscar nominated animator Jimmy Murakami (who actually earned his nomination with the little seen The Magic Pear Tree from 1968)."

    A documentary on his life was produced in Ireland recently.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6T0Vd3P5gsk

    I've enjoyed what I saw of "When The Wind Blows", especially in the set design as much of the interiors of the Bloggs household is an actual scale model that was photographed 3-dimensionally with different angles and cutaways that blended well with the hand-drawn figures as they go about their last few days of life together. The use of live-action photography combined with hand-drawn cel animation doesn't always gel well when it's not executed perfectly as we may see in some examples over the years (the films of Yoram Gross from Australia is one example). It was unique to see how crafted they were in getting the environments right with the shading and textures needed in a pre-digital age when such a production would've seen very costly at best.

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  3. I would have to honor Raymond Briggs for having wrote such a compelling story that he did, and to give us a reason to be aware of nuclear war that most probably never think about. The couple in both the story and film were based on his own parents apparently, and how they had viewed the world in their own way, ignorant as it might seem, though they obviously aren't meant to be dumb because of it. We can certainly see that in Jim and Hilda in the way they view politics and leaders in a stereotyped way (perhaps even so far as to say borderline racist in places). The fact that they obey (or try to) the rules listed in government pamphlets without questioning the motives or authority is rather a part of their upbringing from a time of a sort of class structure that once governed the country prior to WWII, and one that simply never came to their minds until it was too late.

    Here's an interview with Raymond Briggs on writing the story by the way...
    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5lmhw_an-interview-with-raymond-briggs_shortfilms


    PIKADON
    The Kinoshitas certainly make a film that reminds us of the past certainly, and a hope for a future that may never happen again. A book version based on the film was also produced as well featuring stills from the film on every page I recall.

    Another interesting note about the Kinoshitas and Hiroshima was their credited help in founding an international animation festival that is held there every two years since 1985. I just like to point that out since I find it very interesting how that happened in such an unlikely place.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiroshima_International_Animation_Festival


    A SHORT VISION
    The film gained notoriety and a wide viewership when it aired on the Ed Sullivan Show, the popular variety show, on May 27, 1956. The host warned parents to "tell [their young children] not to be alarmed at this 'cause it's a fantasy, the whole thing is animated," but this warning was quite an understatement, as are still legions of baby boomers who are haunted by the memory. This may very well be the film's lasting legacy."

    Not bad for a channel that use to be called "The Tiffany Network" in those days. We really don't see CBS much that way anymore, but there was a time when they had a higher regards to such artistic approaches and presentation, perhaps best noted in one of several ID's shown during Christmastime that were produced by R.O. Blechman. That sort of care or interest kinda died in the 1980's I feel.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUWMjUjit_U
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BT4QntmQ5JQ

    Not to say that a film like "A Short Vision" would've gotten on network TV in the US (public TV probably), but I would have to give Ed Sullivan credit for seeing something he felt was necessary to present to his audience on a widely-seen program such as his.

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  4. BAREFOOT GEN
    "The blast is memorable for its protracted length as well as its graphic nature. The rest of the film is pretty good, detailing Gen and his mother's struggle for survival in the aftermath, but whenever people think of Barefoot Gen, this is what they will remember. Nevertheless, here is the full film if you want to watch the message of hope in the end."

    That's one thing I suppose Barefoot Gen does have under it's belt, that message of hope in the end that saves it from being completely dark ("Grave of the Fireflies" brings this to mind). The sequel to the first film also tries to as well despite the hardships that still linger several years on. I'm still impressed the first film received an English dub when it did back in the 1990's care of Carl Macek's Streamline Pictures (a company often jeered for it's stance on not wanting to release subtitled anime in the early days of anime fandom). It's pretty OK though Gen and Shinji's voices are your typical grown women doing kid voice routines though I suppose it was for the best than try to get real children to emote such lines in acting. Before his death, Macek brought up in an interview how somewhat difficult it was to dub the film as they did not get an isolated soundtrack of just the music and sound effects to use so they had to reconstruct much of the soundtrack for the dub using an record album of the movie's soundtrack to go from, but it came out pretty seamless I felt.

    To this day, discussing WWII and it's effects afterward is still in big debate and it's clear there's no real heroes or enemies. It is not very one-sided as we think, yet every country on the planet was guilty of the failures in it's strategies or prevention as much as the other side. Critic opinions in the A-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki often bring up the Raping of Nanking as the trump card in wanting Japan to apologize greatly for a war they started over colonial gains (an apology the Emperor wanted to do but Gen. Douglas MacArthur simply put him in his place while America dictated how Japan reconstructs itself after the war). In the end, War simply doesn't solve problems when there are lasting effects that would take generations to heal.


    Being off-topic here, but reminded of something else I've seen recently that reminded me of the topic (though not much destruction-wise). Yoshihiro Tatsumi, noted Japanese comic author and founder of the "Gekiga Movement" in Japanese manga had wrote a story called "Hell" dealing with the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing from the unaware intentions of a military photographer on the scene and an image that forever stained his feelings on the war and it's impact. You can read a sample of it here.
    http://www.pen.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/3396/prmID/1502

    It was later adapted for a 2011 animated feature by Singaporean director Eric Khoo entitled "Tatsumi", itself a sort of biographic/retrospective of Tatsumi's life and work.

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  5. Wow! Thanks for your insight about all of these films!

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