Film “Atomic Flame” follows Japanese monks on a peace walk in the U.S.

by Nobutaka Kushi, Staff Writer

“Atomic Flame,” a documentary about Japanese monks on a peace walk in the United States, has been released. The monks carry a flame lit from embers of the fire in Hiroshima caused by the atomic bombing and trek from San Francisco to the Trinity Site in the U.S. state of New Mexico, the location of the world’s first nuclear weapons test. The journey is nearly 2,500 kilometers and the procession of monks is observed with admiration by American onlookers in the film.

The movie was produced and directed by Matt Taylor, an American involved in the film industry in Tokyo and a peace activist. Mr. Taylor grew up believing the claim that the atomic bombs were necessary to end the war more quickly, but grew dismayed with this argument when, in Hiroshima at the age of 13, he learned of the devastating consequences of the attacks.

“Many things have been concealed behind that claim,” said Mr. Taylor, “because there was a possibility that Japan would have surrendered even prior to the bombings.”

The purpose of the monks’ journey in 2005 was to advance the cause of nuclear weapons abolition by walking from San Francisco, where the atomic bombs left the United States back in 1945, to the Trinity Site, scene of the world’s first atomic blast. There, the “Atomic Flame” carried throughout their trek was extinguished in a symbolic ceremony. Mr. Taylor followed the monks and filmed them during the course of their journey. The Japanese title of the film, “Gate,” is a reference to the gate through which the monks entered when they finally reached their destination, the nuclear testing site.

“Atomic Flame” includes clips depicting life in the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s. In one scene, a man lies down on the floor and puts on a blindfold, remarking, “In this way, it’s possible to survive an atomic bomb.” This is one example of the huge gap between the American way of thinking at the time and the reality of the destruction experienced by residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

After seeing the film, one American approached Mr. Taylor and told him, “I’m very moved. I now see, for the first time, that what I have believed isn’t true.” Mr. Taylor smiled at the memory and said, “This is why I’m glad I made this movie.”

(Originally published on July 27, 2008 )