The action takes place in the early 50s, less than a decade after Truman’s administration’s “political” decision to drop "little boy" and "Fat Man" on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (August 6th and 9th, 1945). Starting the age of nuclear deterrence, this action led to the “unconditional surrender” (August 15th) of a ruined country ; Japan - under the guardianship of the US army of occupation (1945-1952) – entered the road of an unprecedented political, economical and ideological restructuration : vote of a new constitution (1946), forced "democratisation", land reform (1946), reindustrialisation. During the same period, the Korean war (1950-1953) turned the archipelago into a US “industrial site”, which quickened up the resurgence of Japanese economy.
S. Imamura’s film approaches both Politics and History by showing the upheavals they caused in Japanese cultural practises and more generally in hierarchical identities. At the heart of the village of Kobatake, where social life is still governed by ancestral codes, the director favours - through the portrait of a family from Hibakusha – the social tragedy caused by the aftermath of an event as extraordinary as a nuclear explosion. Shigematsu, his wife and their niece Yasuko belong to this community of survivors who were exposed to radiations, that the occupant, backed by Japanese authorities, would silence for ten years through a “Press Code” (1945) that forbids any mention of the bomb.
Outcast by her situation as an Hibakusha, Yasuko is excluded from the ritual space of marriage, in spite of the solutions imagined by her uncle. The suitors’ families reject any marriage prospect as soon as they learn that the young woman has been under one of these storms of radioactive black rain that followed the atomic bombing.
Flashback sequences evoke the intensity of the chock caused by the bombing of Hiroshima, portraying a few excerpts from Shugematsu’s “Diary of an atomised”. They throw the viewer at the heart of the experience of the first days following the nuclear disaster.
The marginalization of the Hubakusha family reveals the indelible mark of the nuclear disaster on social and individual bodies ; it makes apparent the outbreak of History into private life.
In his distress, Yasuko gets closer to another marginalized character : Yuichi, the former soldier, who, compulsively responding to the sound of a motor, rushes under the wheels of a car, re-enacting the typical movements of soldiers who had to place a bomb under American tanks shouting “Mission Accomplished”. The director took this character – absent from the original story – from a short story written by the same writer, M.Ibuse. The alternative couple formed by these two characters reveals the obverse and the reverse of Japan’s post-war trauma. These two characters embody a “defeated” Japan, hurt by years of military conditioning, the war and the bomb, they establish themselves as symptomatic bodies of the “Age of Extremes”, whose exegesis was written by historian Eric Hobsbawn.