Written by: Michael Den Boer on July 18th, 2005
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, July 21st, 1983 & June 14th, 1986
Directors: Mori Masaki, Toshio Hirata, Akio Sakai
Writer: Keiji Nakazawa
Cast: Ryouko Kitamiya, Masako Nozawa
DVD released: August 1st, 2005
Approximate running time: 84 & 85 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo
DVD Release: Optimum
Region Coding: Region 2 PAL
Retail Price: £19.99
The year is 1945 and the Second World War is coming to close. The war has taken its toll on many including Gen’s family who are on the verge of starvation and live each day in constant fear of the next American air raid. Gen has two siblings his older sister Eiko and his younger brother Shinji. His mother Kimie is pregnant with another child and his father who a conscious objector too the war struggles to find steady work. One day on his way home Gen see a plane unlike any he has ever seen before and what is even more usual is that the air raid sirens never sounded even though it is obviously an enemy plane. The plane is carrying an atomic bomb and in a matter of seconds Gen’s life is changed forever. Gen walks through the rubble that once was the city of Hiroshima in search of his family. He finds his family only to lose every one in the end except his mother. The day the bomb was dropped is also the day that Gen’s mother gives birth to a baby girl. They start a new life together in post war Japan.
A young boy arrives on their doorstep that is the mirror image of Gen’s dead brother Shinji. He hasn’t eaten in a long time so they invite him to have dinner with them. Gen and his mother agree that they should ask this boy who name is Ryuta to join their family. There years later after the bombing of Hiroshima Gen and his mother try to cope with the destruction left in wake of the world war. Gen and Ryuta do odd jobs to help supplement the income Gen’s mother makes from working at a factory. A chance encounter with the leader of a group of homeless orphans forms a new friendship that briefly leads to more money and food. Bad luck has plagued Gen most of his life as he is unable to help save his baby sister who dies from malnutrition and now his most is dying from a mysterious disease that is caused by fallout form the atomic bomb. Will Gen be able a raise the money needed to buy his mother the penicillin she needs or will fate intervene once again.
Keiji Nakazawa was six years old when an atomic bomb was dropped on the town he lived in Hiroshima. He would loose most of his family in the wake of the destruction that was caused by the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. Barefoot Gen is Keiji Nakazawa’s first hand retelling of his painful loss and struggle to survive in post war Japan. In 1972 Keiji Nakazawa created the Manga, Hadashi No Gen which would later become one of the first Manga’s ever to be translated into English.
The animation in Barefoot Gen may not look as slick as some modern day Anime’s like Ghost in Shell, still it is the story that makes this film so compelling. The rough around the edges look helps keep the attention focused on the story that is being told which only helps moments like when the atomic bomb destroys Hiroshima which has been recreated in gruesome detail. Despite the subject matter being dark in tone most of them time the film overall is an optimistic tale the bonds that are formed between family members. War is never pretty or easy to digest and this film while it makes it points against war it never shows violence in a gratuitous way. I have seen many films about war and none have ever come close to capturing the horrors that are shown in Barefoot Gen. The character are so well defined that we can’t help but care and feel for them. The story has a perfect arch from the start to the finish as there is never a dull moment. The two Barefoot Gen films are completely different in tone with the second film being the more light hearted in tone and subject matter. Many films have explored what is was like to live in Japan after World War 2, still the story in Barefoot Gen and its sequel never feel like they are recycling plots like many of these other films often do. In the end Barefoot Gen is about one boy’s survival against insurmountable odds and the greatest loss of all the love of everyone he has ever loved.
Optimum Asia presents both Barefoot Gen and Barefoot Gen 2 in their original full frame aspect ratios. The image is solid through out with an exceptional amount of detail present in every frame. The colors look lively and there are no problems with compression. The image looks virtually flawless with no print damage or artifacts. This is the best these films have looked since their original releases nearly twenty years ago.
Both films come with only one audio option the films original Japanese language track which is presented in a Dolby Digital stereo. The audio sounds evenly balanced with most of the action directed to the center channel. There are no problems with hiss or distortion. English subtitles have been included that are easy to follow and understand.
Extras for this DVD release are limited too a collectable booklet that includes an interview Barefoot Gen’s creator Keiji Nakazawa and an essay by Jonathan Clements, co-author of “The Anime Encyclopedia”. Both pieces are uninteresting reads that offer most insight into the two Barefoot Gen films and Keiji Nakazawa. Also included on this DVD is a promo for War Child an organization created to help child who have been victimized by War. Optimum Asia has put together an impressive DVD and for every copy Barefoot Gen DVD that is sold a donation will be made to the War Child foundation. The Barefoot Gen films are a powerful piece of cinema that vividly recreates the horrors of war with the utmost realism, highly recommend.
For more information about Barefoot Gen and other titles released by Optimum visit their website.