This week’s pick is Hiroshima (1995), which was a made for T.V. mini series on Showtime Network, and was directed by both Koreyoshi Kurahara and Roger Spottiswoode . The film is about the events that led up to the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan during the tail end of World War II. The film is told through the eyes of both American and Japanese militarists, and civilians who were responsible, and were greatly affected by the decision to use the bombs.
The film stars Kenneth Welsh (president Harry S. Truman), Ken Jenkins (Secretary of State James F. Byrnes), Wesley Addy (Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson), Richard Masur (Maj. General Leslie Groves), Colin Fox (Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal), George R. Robertson (Admiral William D. Leahy), Saul Rubinek (Professor Leo Szilard), Cedric Smith (Gen. Curtis Lemay), Bernard Behrens (Asst. Secretary of War John J. McCloy), Jeffrey DeMunn (J. Robert Oppenheimer), Tim West (Prime Minister Winston Churchill), Naohiko Umewaka (Emperor Hirohito), Kazuo Kato (Prince Fumimaro Konoe), Ken Maeda (Minister of War Korechika Anami), and Hisashi Igawa (Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo).
Hiroshima sets the tone of the film almost immediately with the death of president Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 12, 1945. His reluctant successor Harry S. Truman assumes the presidency and quickly learns of the secret government project that has devised a “gadget” which will help end the war first in Europe. Welsh, who is the spitting image of Truman, plays him to perfection. Other actors play the their historical counterparts the same.
Other notable standouts are Masur as General Groves who was the military mind behind the Manhattan Project that created both bombs at the Los Alamos, New Mexico laboratories. One of my favorite characters in the film is played by Wesley Addy who plays Henry L. Stimson, the Secretary of War. Stimson pleaded with Truman that the use of such a weapon could create a new arms race for atomic weapons in the near future. One scene in the film that has been debated by historians for decades is the meeting between Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard (Rubinek) and James Byrnes (Jenkins) at Byrne’s home in South Carolina.
Szilard and his fellow colleagues from the University of Chicago have signed a petition along with seventy-three of their fellow scientists urging president Truman not to use the atomic bomb against the Japanese. Szilard warns Byrnes that he and the rest of the militarists and politicians will start the world on a terrible race to create even more destructive atomic and one day nuclear weapons. Byrne’s reply to the scientists is that the American people have spent over two billion dollars on the project and that they haven’t come this far to scrap the whole project. Szilard urges that Truman be told of the conversation and that he take the matter into consideration. The film suggests that Byrnes never mentioned the conversation between he and Szilard to Truman.
The film is also told through interviews of many Japanese and Americans who comment about the war and their experiences. One such interview is from a former U.S. Marine involved in the battle of Okinawa, which was the hardest fought campaign to date in the Pacific theater. The Americans were now on sacred Japanese soil, and the Japanese were determined to fight to the last man. Other interviews are with Japanese civilians from cities which were bombed including Hiroshima. Many of the civilians talk about how they were trained for the possible American invasion of Japan, which estimated American casualties would have been in the hundreds of thousands within the first few months of the campaigns to invade, which were scheduled to begin in autumn of 1945.
One of my favorite scenes in the film is the one with the committee appointed by Truman for the use of the atomic weapons. General George C. Marshall (Army Chief of Staff) unveils the plans for the invasion of Kyushu in November of 1945 and the main island of Honshu in March of 1946. Marshall says that the operation will be twice as costly as the Normandy landings, and will result in over 250,000 American casualties as they reach the Tokyo plain.
Truman calls out to Asst. Secretary of War McCloy (Behrens) for his impute. Stimson (Addy) urges McCloy to tell the president his thoughts on the matter. McCloy suggests to Truman that they tell the Japanese the destructive capabilities of the bomb and that the only way to ensure unconditional surrender is that they will be allowed to keep their emperor. The film tells the viewer that this was the first time that the A bomb was ever mentioned in a war strategy meeting.
The further events depicted in the film which lead up to the first use of the bomb after its successful detonation in the New Mexico desert in July 1945 are executed brilliantly. The Japanese inadvertently and publicly refuse the American ultimatum to cease all hostilities (a fantastic scene) and Truman then green lights the use of the bomb against the first target of Hiroshima. The plane and its crew which had been involved in secret bombing operations for months back in the states, takes off from the island of Tinian to drop the bomb.
Colonel Tibbets and his men have no idea of the destructive nature of the bomb but are assured that it will help end the war. The plane drops the bomb and witnesses the explosion and the destruction over Hiroshima. As the film reaches it’s conclusion, the Japanese suffer further destruction and Emperor Hirohito says that he and his people must endure the unendurable by surrendering and complying with the Americans demands. The Japanese militarists stage a deseperate coup to seize control of the government in order to keep the war going and to safe the emperor’s honor.
Hiroshima is available on DVD through Artisan Home Entertainment and can be rented through Netflix.