Kinoshita’s “Children of Nagasaki” (1983)

Children of Nagasaki.jpg

Kinoshita’s film about Dr. Nagai Takashi (1908-51), “Children of Nagasaki” (Kono ko o nokoshite, 1983), is based on Nagai’s Leaving These Children Behind. None of the characters remarks on the US choice of a concentration of Christians (in Urakami, living around its Roman Catholic cathedral) on whom to drop the second atomic bomb, three days after the one dropped on Hiroshima. (The real target of the mission was the Kokura steelworks portrayed in Kinoshita’s “The Eternal Rainbow” (1958) but it was too obscured by smoke from the previous day’s fire-bombing of Yawata for American bombers to distinguish.) I’m not sure that targeting the center of Japanese Christendom was an irony, but the irony that a radiologist of the Nagasaki Medical College Hospital who was already dying of radiation poisoning should survive the dropping of a nuclear bomb that kills his healthy wife, Maria Midori, is not lost on the doctor, who meticulously documented the radiation poisoning from the bomb. (Nagai was a real person, a Christian radiologist some of whose books, such as The Bells of Nagasaki, are available in English. It was filmed in 1950.)


(the real Nagais)


Eventually his son, Makoto, becomes the narrator, a somewhat awkward transition, though the perspective of the child who saw the flash eight kilometers away, having just been evacuated to his mother’s mother’s place in the countryside, is sometimes counterpoised to that of his even more stoic father. (Makoto is pretty stoic, growing up overnight when his grandmother brings his mother (and her rosary) in a cylindrical metal container.


The grandmother moves into a shack in the burnt-out (and radioactive!) ruins to take care of her stolid son-in-law and two grandchildren (the younger Kayano and Makoto), as their father prepares them for the hard life as orphans. He hopes his writing will provide them some income, but the US Occupation censors don’t allow any of it to be published until 1951, which is also when he succumbs.



Gô Katô, whom Kinoshita often cast, is a heroic though very humble hero. (Nagai was called “the saint of Urakami,” though this is not mentioned in the film). Awashima Chikage (Early Summer, Early Spring) devotes herself to taking her daughter’s place.

As usual in Kinoshita movies (1) there is only one parent (for most of the movie), (2) there are shots (interior and exterior) of trains, and (3) there is a song, though it does not come until the end and is a threnody for the victims of Nagasaki rather than a folk song touting a hometown.

The grandmother blames the (Japanese) warmongers for prolonging a war that was clearly lost (she does not mention that they also started it). There is a scene of insensitive Americans taking photos without explanation or permission, fobbing candy bars on the children… and the film clearly shares Dr. Nagai’s commitment to ensuring nuclear bombs are not dropped on anyone else.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray


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