If you watch any of the films I’ve ever recommended, or take me seriously at all, then please listen when I say that you must watch this film. I beg of you, please watch this film. It deserves to be seen.
I first came across it because of an online Film Club I’m apart of, each week, a member picks a movie for everyone to watch, then we discuss it afterwards, one of my friends in the group picked Barefoot Gen.
The film is about Gen, a little boy living in Hiroshima towards the end of World War II. Gen’s father believes the war is unwinnable, which ostracizes him and his family from the rest of the town. After being shunned, food becomes scarce for Gen and his family, however, their concerns soon become minor after the American military begins its final assault on Japan, and with it, unleashing a terrible new device of nuclear proportions.
It’s based on the acclaimed manga, of the same name, by Nakazawa Keiji, who was 6-years-old at the time of the bombing of Hiroshima and was one of the survivors of the attack. The bomb was responsible for the death of his father, his sister, and his brother.
I asked my friend, Hank, who picked the film for the club, why people should go out and see this movie:
“Barefoot Gen, in my opinion, is a must-see film. It captures the horror of wartime Japan better than any film I’ve seen try; The writer of the manga seeing the explosion firsthand definitely comes through in the horrific visuals, and it’s stunning. But what’s great about it, is that while everyone is going through one of the worst events in human history, you get the story of one family that even through losing members, facing [the worst things imaginable] and struggling to survive, they still find hope to carry on. It’s heart wrenching, and I personally think that’s the experience Barefoot Gen gives that no other film could.”
If there was one word to describe Barefoot Gen, it’s wheat. No, I’m not kidding. Wheat is a motif and symbol throughout the film. At the beginning of the film, Gen, his brother, Shinji, and their father are walking through a wheat field. Their father tells them that “wheat sprouts up in cold, harsh winters, is stepped on often, and is rooted deep in the Earth. It resits frost, wind, and snow, grows straight, and makes splendid ears.”
Gen mocks his father by saying, “Grow strong like wheat, boys.” And that’s exactly what he means. Wheat grows tall and strong despite it being under so many constraints and stresses. Wheat represents the resilient human spirit, which is kind of interesting.
The easiest thing to compare the film to is Grave of the Fireflies (1988), with a kid-focused point-of-view and a powerful anti-war message. But, despite Barefoot Gen coming out five years before, Grave of the Fireflies seems to be the most known; my guess is because Grave is from animation titan, Studio Ghibli.
I’m not trying to knock down Grave when I say that, as I think it’s the greatest thing to come from Studio Ghibli, and a masterpiece in its own right, but it’s unfortunate to see two films, both alike in power and message, and see one tower over the other, which I guess is natural in most cases.
Either way, Barefoot Gen is an extremely powerful film about the effects of war and the eternal hope that human beings have. (4.5/5)
The film is available to watch and to rent on Amazon Prime.