History of Hiroshima: 1945-1995 (Part 29, Article 2)
Mar. 20, 2013
Artistic Expression (Part 2)
by the “History of Hiroshima” reporting team
Note: This article was originally published in 1995.
“When Hiroshima is forgotten, another Hiroshima will occur.” This is the thought in the minds of those who sensed the end of humankind in the horror of the atomic bombing. In their own ways, they are conveying the story of Hiroshima to the world.
Fifty years have now passed, and the atomic bombing is turning from “experience” to “history.” How should the reality of Hiroshima’s past be handed down to the next generation? In closing this special series, “History of Hiroshima: 1945-1995,” we will share, in two parts, the stories of those working to pass on the legacy of the A-bomb experience.
The first part will look at four people: writer Makoto Oda, actress Sayuri Yoshinaga, and singer Hiroko Ogi are all engaged in expressing their thoughts on Hiroshima through forms of literature and entertainment, while Koji Adachi, a young writer, is now taking up this task.
The accompanying chronological tables will show some of the series of articles on the atomic bombing that have appeared in the Chugoku Shimbun over the past 50 years.
Actress Sayuri Yoshinaga: Conveying the sorrows of A-bomb survivors
Actress Sayuri Yoshinaga responded carefully to each question. As she measured her words, she would angle her head to one side. When asked why she worked so hard on behalf of Hiroshima, she replied with dignity: “There should be no war or nuclear weapons. Some people say they are necessary evils, but war should not be repeated and nuclear weapons should not be used. I believe, as a human being, that I should continue to make my voice heard.”
Ms. Yoshinaga, one of the most celebrated actresses of Japanese cinema, has been involved in antinuclear and peace efforts for over ten years. She was born in 1945, and her life unfolded in step with Japan’s post-war era. Her first encounter with Hiroshima came through “Ai to Shi no Kiroku” (“A Record of Love and Death”), a film produced by the Nikkatsu Corporation in 1966.
The film tells the story of a young man whose parents were killed in the atomic bombing. He himself dies of leukemia at the age of 24. Ms. Yoshinaga played the role of Kazue, the young man’s 20-year-old fiancée, who takes poison to end her life and join him in death. The movie is based on a true story.
The film was shot in Hiroshima under the scorching sun, the city still bearing scars from the bombing. Shooting locations included the so-called “A-bomb slum,” which was crowded with illegal dwellings, and the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Hospital, where the young man played by actor Tetsuya Watari was actually hospitalized. The scene where the young man tells Kazue that he is suffering from “A-bomb disease” was shot at the A-bomb Dome.
“I felt as if I could hear, coming from beneath the ground, the voices of people who perished in the bombing,” Ms. Yoshinaga said. “The sense of tension was heart-wrenching, indescribable.” She put all this emotion into playing the part of Kazue, imagining what the young girl must have felt. The crew of the film all contributed to the campaign to preserve the A-bomb Dome, which was underway at that time.
But the film that was released did not include a full view of the dome or such scenes as a conversation with a woman who had keloids. Ms. Yoshinaga began her acting career as a young girl, the work helping to support her family. She commuted to the film studio as if going to school. Still, she could not help but have mixed feelings about the film. She was a student at Waseda University at the time, the site of large protests against the Vietnam War.
Looking back on those days, she said, “The film company wanted to present me in romantic films for young people. So scenes that were depressing or tragic were cut. It was such a shame.” Ms. Yoshinaga was a box-office superstar back then, starring in more than ten films a year. But as the company’s earnings declined, the revenue generated by its films became the top priority.
The next time she came into contact with Hiroshima was through a TV drama series called “Yumechiyo Nikki,” (“Yumechiyo’s Diary”) which aired on Japan’s public broadcaster NHK between 1981 and 1984.
She gave a splendid performance in the role of a geisha named Yumechiyo, an A-bomb survivor who lived in a rustic hot-spring resort and suffered from illness. The character had been exposed to the atomic bomb while in her mother’s womb. The script was written by Akira Hayasaka, who had seen the devastation in Hiroshima shortly after the atomic bombing while on his way home to Ehime Prefecture after being demobilized from the military.
“At first, I wondered why Yumechiyo could be so kind to people,” said Ms. Yoshinaga, her eyes clouding. “But as I performed the role, I came to understand that she was being kind because she felt so sad and she was trying to encourage herself by treating people kindly.” Her words indicate the depth of understanding she gained for her character’s inner life.
Ms. Yoshinaga said that Yumechiyo’s sorrow came from the frustration she felt over being exposed to radiation before she was even born. “I can’t help comparing the life of sorrow she led with my own happy life,” she said.
Her father, Yoshiyuki Yoshinaga (who died in 1989), went off to war by ship, but had to disembark due to illness. “I heard that the boat was attacked and sank. If my father hadn’t been forced to go home at that time, I wouldn’t have been born. The difference is profound,” said Ms. Yoshinaga, who was born the second of three daughters, three days after the Great Tokyo Air Raids.
Because of her strong emotional attachment to the character of Yumechiyo, she also played the role in the movie version of the story in 1985. But now she feels some regret that the movie ends with Yumechiyo’s death. “She tried to live her life to the fullest. She shouldn’t have died in the movie. I feel we did some irreparable harm to hibakusha,” said Ms. Yoshinaga in a mournful voice.
It was around that time that she began to interact more with groups of A-bomb survivors. Then she herself started to appeal for the abolition of nuclear weapons. In 1986, the United Nations-designated International Peace Year, she joined a rally organized by the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations and other groups for the first time. At this Tokyo rally, she recited the poem “Dokoku” (“Lamentation”) by the late Kazuko Ohira.
After that, she volunteered to narrate the independently-produced movies “Hiroshima to Iu Nano Shonen” (“A Boy Named Hiroshima”) and “Bikini no Umi wa Wasurenai” (“The Ocean of Bikini Will Not Forget”). She also donated her fee for appearing in a TV program in Hiroshima to the second fundraising effort for the preservation of the A-bomb Dome. In addition, Ms. Yoshinaga is an advocate of petition drives seeking to make Tokyo a nuclear-free city and enact the three non-nuclear principles into law.
Ms. Yoshinaga will be in Hiroshima on August 6. She will make a show of support at the No Nukes Concert 1995 organized by the Hiroshima Students Peace Seminar, whose members have been exchanging letters with her.
“I’m an actress and reciting literary works about the atomic bombing is meaningful to me,” she said. “At the same time, I would like to contemplate the war and the atomic bombings on a personal level. For talking about peace to the younger generation, Hiroshima is the most significant place.” When she said this, her eyes looked just like those of the girl Jun, the main character of her best-known film “Kyupora no Aru Machi” (“Foundry Town”). She looked full of hope.
Singer Hiroko Ogi: Singing “The Children’s Peace Monument” for the first time in 31 years
Wearing a white blouse and a black pleated skirt, Hiroko Ogi sang the song “The Children’s Peace Monument” at the Peace Memorial Ceremony in Hiroshima on August 6, 1964. Thirty summers have gone by since that moment, when she sang while thinking of her father, whose spirit lives within her.
“This year I’ll be 50,” Ms. Ogi said with a smile. “I’ve accomplished the things I set out to do and experienced the glamorous life of a singer. So I feel very satisfied.”
Ms. Ogi, whose real name is Hiromi Tanabe, experienced the atomic bombing while at home in Danbaranaka-machi, about 2 kilometers from the hypocenter, when she was just six months old. Her father was helping to dismantle buildings to create a firebreak at the time, and was killed in the blast. To earn money, her mother went to work in the “water trade” of bars and nightclubs, leaving Ms. Ogi in the care of her grandmother, who lived in Shikoku. Her grandmother then adopted Ms. Ogi as her daughter, and on the family register, she and her mother became sisters.
She always keeps her A-bomb Survivor’s Certificate on hand. Her mother had advised her to obtain it shortly after she turned 20. Once she had the certificate, though, it stirred a deeper sense of anxiety, and so she tore it up and threw it away. Scolded by her mother, she acquired a new one. The fact that she is an A-bomb survivor is ingrained in her mind.
In November of this year, she will give a recital to commemorate the 30th anniversary of her debut. Up to now, she has not made deliberate efforts to convey accounts of the atomic bombing. But in the coming concert, she plans to sing “The Children’s Peace Monument” for the first time since she sang it 31 summers ago.
“I’d like to convey the message of the generation whose lives were upended by the war and the atomic bombing,” Ms. Ogi said. Even while enjoying tremendous success in her life, she has never forgotten what remains ingrained within her.
As she was growing up, her mother would sometimes visit and she believed she was simply a “beautiful aunt.” But when she was in the fourth grade, her mother finally told her the truth and added her to her family register as an adopted daughter. As if to make up for the time lost up to that point, her mother enabled her to take various kinds of private lessons.
Though she was only a child, she knew her mother had gone through many hardships in her life. And so, at the age of 9 or 10, she made up her mind to become a singer and bring in income to help her mother live a more comfortable life.
She made her debut with Nippon Columbia Co, Ltd. at the age of 19. Initially, her debut song was going to be “Akai Tsubaki-no Sandogasa” (“Sedge Hat with a Red Camellia”). Learning that she was an A-bomb survivor, her voice teacher, along with composer Minoru Endo and songwriter Miyuki Ishimoto, suggested that she debut at the peace ceremony in Hiroshima. The song “The Children’s Peace Monument” was then crafted and became her debut.
After that, she scored a string of hit tunes such as “Aishu Kaikyo” (“The Melancholy Strait”) and “Shinjuku Blues.” She also acted in films including the “Nobori Ryu” (“Rising Dragon”) series. Her star rose and then fell. She sought independence as a singer, establishing her own production company. In her private life, she divorced and remarried. Her life has had its share of ups and downs.
Born in Tokyo, Sayuri Yoshinaga made her debut with the radio drama “Akado Suzunosuke” (“Suzunosuke with the Red Breastplate”) in 1956. She has been honored with a variety of awards, including the NHK movie “best newcomer award” for her performance in the 1962 film “Kyupora no Aru Machi” (“Foundry Town”). She also won the Kinema Junpo Best Actress Award for her performance of the title character in “Ohan.” Long at the forefront of Japanese cinema, Ms. Yoshinaga has appeared in 105 films.
Hiroko Ogi was born in 1945 and graduated from Soai High School in Osaka. In 1967, “Shinjuku Blues” became a big hit and brought her success as an enka (traditional Japanese ballad) singer. She also appeared in the “Nobori Ryu” (“Rising Dragon”) film series.
(Originally published on August 6, 1995)