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National, disciplinary, and linguistic boundaries all play a role in academic study and nowhere is this more apparent than in traditional humanities scholarship surrounding the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. How would our understanding of this seminal event change if we read Japanese and Euro-American texts together and across disciplines? In Producing Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Yuko Shibata juxtaposes literary and cinematic texts usually considered separately to highlight the “connected divides” in the production of knowledge on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, shedding new light on both texts and contexts in the process.
Shibata takes up two canonical works—American journalist John Hersey’s account, Hiroshima, and French director Alain Resnais’ avant-garde film, Hiroshima Mon Amour—that are traditionally excluded from study in Japanese literature and cinema. By examining Hersey’s Hiroshima in conjunction with The Bells of Nagasaki (Nagai Takashi) and Children of the A-Bomb (Osada Arata), both Japanese bestsellers, Shibata demonstrates how influential Hersey’s Hiroshima has been in forging the normative narrative of the hibakusha experience in Japan. She also compares Hiroshima Mon Amour with Kamei Fumio’s documentary, Still It’s Good to Live, whose footage Resnais borrowed to depict atomic bomb victimhood. Resnais’ avant-garde masterpiece, she contends, is the palimpsest of Kamei’s surrealist documentary; both blur the binaries between realist and avant-garde representations. Reading Hiroshima Mon Amour in its historical context enables Shibata to offer an entirely new analysis of Renais’ work. She also delineates how Japanese films came to produce the martyrdom narrative of the hibakusha in the early postwar period.
Producing Hiroshima and Nagasaki allows us to trace the complex and entangled political threads that link representations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, reminding us that narratives and images deploy different effects in different places and times. This highly original approach establishes a new kind of transnational and transpacific studies on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and raises the possibility of a comparative area studies to match the age of world literature.
"Producing Hiroshima and Nagasaki is a beautifully researched and long overdue reassessment of the aftermath of the nuclear obliteration of these two cities. Drawing extensively from Japanese as well as western sources, Shibata expertly assesses eyewitness accounts, films, novels, and scholarship with nuanced readings of critical and postcolonial theory. Her fine analysis of the best-known literary and cinematic accounts of the bombings provides a devastating critique of the politics of representation and the way that western audiences have been encouraged to sentimentalize and compartmentalize these world-shattering events. She resurrects 1950s Japanese documentaries and fiction films by and about survivors, some of which (like Fumio Kamei’s 1956 film Still It’s Good to Live) are the unacknowledged sources for works that have become canonical in the west (Resnais’ 1959 Hiroshima mon amour). She also demonstrates how the colonialist policies of the US occupation after Japan’s defeat prevented the victims from receiving adequate attention as well as potentially life-saving medical treatment, reducing them instead to the status of experimental subjects. She argues that a focus on the lived experience of actual survivors—the hibakusha—will be the only way we can overcome the “structures of indifference” that surround the discourse about the atomic bombings and build the kind of awareness and understanding that might prevent future nuclear wars."
Inez Hedges, author of World Cinema and Cultural Memory
"How do memories of U.S. atomic attacks, the European Holocaust, global colonial violence, and Japanese war atrocities converge or diverge? Yuko Shibata’s Producing Hiroshima and Nagasaki offers a brilliant transpacific re-examination of canonical and repressed texts about how certain atrocities are remembered and forgotten differently by local and global audiences. A devastating postcolonial critique of blind-spots in Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour becomes a common thread with which Shibata weaves a connected fabric of memories historically torn apart by disciplinary “areas” between studies of Japan and Euro-America. An unflinching indictment of selective memories in realpolitik, academic, and cultural industries, this book makes a sobering statement by example about the urgent need for new transpacific methods as a corrective to one-sided, provincial narratives on conflicted pasts. A must-read for global scholars and students of various disciplines including film, literature, and history in Euro-American studies, Asian studies, postcolonial studies, and memory studies."
Nayoung Aimee Kwon, Duke University
"Producing Hiroshima and Nagasaki issues a resolute challenge to the nation-centered histories and avant-garde pieties—“the impossibility of talking about Hiroshima”—that have distorted our understanding of the political implications and social costs of the atomic bombings. Yuko Shibata offers instead an elegant and persuasive counter-reading, working across films and novels of disparate provenance to lay bare the entangled imperial legacies that have been consistently disavowed. Her book also has an immediate and practical concern, an ethical insistence on the centrality and complexity of the experiences of victims and survivors."
Thomas Lamarre, McGill University