NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
Over the past few weeks, we've discussed the dawn of the atomic age at the Trinity test site in New Mexico and the political and physical effects of Hiroshima. Today on the 60th anniversary of the second attack at Nagasaki, how the atom bomb's affected culture and self-image in Japan and here in the US. One of Japan's leading artists says his country's utter military defeat and its ensuing dependence on the US led to the creation of the monster Godzilla, to the video game "Dragon Ball" and even to Hello Kitty. Artist Takashi Murakami curated a New York exhibit called "Little Boy." The name refers both to the bomb that dropped on Hiroshima and to his view of the postwar relationship between Japan and the US. The exhibit at the Japan Society focused on art inspired by the youth-driven or otaku or geek culture. That art includes anime cartoons plus cute playthings like Hello Kitty and the considerably less cute video games. Today, we'll examine the cultural aftermath of the bomb with a curator from the Japan Society, with a professor who looks at America's relationship to the bomb and with a Japanese producer who talked with both US and Japanese teen-agers about the bomb.
Later this hour, we'll hear the voice of another cultural icon. Actor Jim Dale joins us with the voices of Harry Potter and company. But first, the popular arts 60 years after Little Boy and Fat Man. How did those bombs shape postwar culture? Is the post-apocalypse an atomic echo? How do the bombs fit into America's self-image? Our number here in Washington is (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Linda Hoaglund joins us now. She helped translate the Japan Society's "Little Boy" exhibit. She's also the senior film curator at the Japan Society. She's working on an upcoming film series called "After War...," and she's nice enough to take time from her vacation to talk to us from the island of Kauai in Hawaii.
Thanks very much for being on the program today.
Ms. LINDA HOAGLUND (Senior Film Curator, Japan Society): Hi, Neal. How are you?
CONAN: I'm very well, thank you. If there's one thing in Japanese culture that tells you immediately `This is after Hiroshima,' `This is after Nagasaki,' what would it be?
Ms. HOAGLUND: Well, I think we would have to start with Godzilla. In the original Japanese version of the film, the Godzilla, the monster, was posited as having been awakened from a, you know, centuries-old slumber by hydrogen testing in the Pacific. And one Japanese filmmaker posits--he's in his late 40s today--that the most terrifying thing about Godzilla were the extras who fled the monster because they were all people who had survived the fire bombings, if not Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the terror on their faces was real, not faked, and that through that, through these kinds of popular animated and manga and films, animation and manga in films, the terror and the aftermath of the war was transmitted to succeeding generations.
CONAN: Hmm. I've heard it described--and whether this is accurate or not, you tell me--a lot of American films end with big explosions; a lot of Japanese films begin with big explosions.
Ms. HOAGLUND: Yes. Well, because Japan is the only country to have experienced an atomic bomb, perhaps they felt that they had the right to just start a film with the big explosion of the bomb. There are several famous entertainment films--these are not documentaries, but made for popular entertainment--that just--foosh!--start with the bomb and the mushroom cloud, and that's where the story starts because Japan has lived through it and can speak about the aftermath, whereas the United States, never having lived through it, must end with the bomb and the big explosion because we're not really comfortable looking with what happened after.
CONAN: Hmm. Now you worked closely with this artist that we've been talking about, curator Takashi Murakami. How does this so called otaku, the geeky art driven by youth market, how does that relate to--well, to a war that--all right, obviously traumatic 60 years ago, though, long before they were born?
Ms. HOAGLUND: Right. His thesis is that the violence of the atomic bombs and the war in general, because they could not find an outlet in the fine arts in postwar Japan, made their way into the consciousness of the next generation via these animation and manga. "Atom Boy" would be a great example of an extremely popular children's program that directly references the atomic bomb. What happened is that these children watched these, you know, television entertainments and read these manga and then grew up in the '60s and the '70s subliminally aware of the sort of ensuing issues. In addition to--I mean, what happened--the otaku kind of emerged in the late '70s as adults. They were steeped in these images and, in Murakami's words, he characterizes otaku--super geeks, if you will...
Ms. HOAGLUND: ...by a relentless self-reference to a humiliated self. They were obsessed with what was then considered uncool, these homegrown cultures of anime and manga.
In addition then, what otaku grew up with were the fundamental contradictions of why Japan remained dependent on the country that dropped the atomic bombs and defeated Japan militarily; also why Japan, one of the few countries in the world--one of two countries in the world that has a peace constitution forswearing war, also has a self-defense force. The parents of these children were at a loss to explain these fundamental contradictions to their children because they themselves couldn't understand them.
CONAN: Let's get some listeners in on the conversation. (800) 989-8255. E-mail is email@example.com. We're talking today about atomic echoes in Japanese culture. Later, we'll get to Americans, as well. And let's begin by talking with Steve. Steve joins us on the line from Salem, Oregon.
STEVE (Caller): Yeah, I have a question. I'm interested in the self-loathing culture that the Japanese perceive themselves in, in light of the news censorships and blackouts that were happening especially from '43 on when they weren't getting any information, that they were this defeating, losing--defeated, losing nation, that everything was fine, that they were winning the war. When did all this start? How did they--you know, what was the essence of the time frame?
Ms. HOAGLUND: Well, you're correct, it was Japanese military censorship through the early '40s, and then, of course, there was United States occupation censorship which prohibited really any images of the war or the bombs. And so it wasn't until really the mid-'50s that any of these images could be legitimately portrayed. And so I think, in a sense, it took the Japanese a long time to catch up with not only the legacy of their own militarism, but also the legacy of the bombs and their humiliating defeat.
STEVE: Thank you.
CONAN: Steve, thanks for the call.
Let's get another voice in on the conversation. Marianna Torgovnick is a cultural critic and the author of a new book called "The War Complex: World War II in Our Time." She's with us from the Duke University News Service studios.
Thanks very much for being with us on the program.
Professor MARIANNA TORGOVNICK (Author, "The War Complex"): Happy to be here, Neal.
CONAN: We've been talking with Linda Hoaglund about some of the effects on Japanese culture. How do you think the bombs manifest themselves in American culture?
Prof. TORGOVNICK: Well, gee, there are lots of ways that the bombs manifest themselves in American culture. The initial reaction in the United States was one of great joy that the war had ended, and that kind of emphasized the fact that Pearl Harbor had initiated the war and that there had been lots of Japanese atrocities. And that continues to appear in American culture. There are people who feel no regret about the dropping of the bomb. There are even people who feel proud of the dropping of the bomb.
But at the same time that this feeling took shape, there was a reaction which I would call a strong reaction of apprehension. A lot of the clergymen in the United States and a lot of intellectuals warned the United States not to be too proud and warned that there was something to fear now that the energy of the universe had been tapped for purposes of war. And that apprehension reaction, I think, is the key thing which has continued in American culture. And even the people who feel proud of the atomic bomb, I think, nonetheless have been influenced by the fact that apprehension becomes a basic feature of American life.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Well, did that have to do with the--you know, unleashing the atomic genie, if you will, or the fears of the Cold War which followed not long thereafter?
Prof. TORGOVNICK: It had to do with both. The initial statement made by Robert Oppenheimer, who had developed the bomb, quoted from two figures in the Bhagavad-Gita. One of them refers to the radiance of 1,000 suns, the forces of creation, and the other refers to the energies of destruction. Krishna says, `I am time grown old to destroy the world,' and I think that feeling that something basic had changed was one thing.
But of course, some people think that one of the points of the atomic bombings was to demonstrate to our future Cold War enemy that we possessed the atomic bomb.
Prof. TORGOVNICK: And that, of course, led to the apprehension that other people would possess the atomic bomb and would use them against us. So a lot of Cold War energy is devoted to preventing the Soviets, who developed the atomic bomb in '49, and then devoted to preventing the Soviets from developing the hydrogen bomb, which they do very quickly after we developed the hydrogen bomb. So there's always this idea that it might happen to us, and what would we do if it happened to us.
CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line, Robert. Robert calling us from Queens in New York.
ROBERT (Caller): Hi. Yes, hi. In regards to this concept of self-loathing for Japan in modern Japan, I don't see a connection. Being in Japan, I noticed that, you know, other than the normal understanding that it is a very patriarchal society, that this idea of self-loathing seems to be, I would say, antiquated. You have an administration now that is actually forthright in its idea that it can project itself as a power. Do you think that the idea of self-loathing is more of an outdated premise at this point considering Japan's very long history?
CONAN: Linda Hoaglund, I think that's to you.
Ms. HOAGLUND: Yes. Well, yes, certainly the current Japanese administration is beginning to rattle its sabers, but I think in part, it's a direct reaction to the fact that Japan has for 60 years been utterly militarily dependent on the United States, and that what Murakami posits is that this military political dependence on the United States leads to a sense of impotence.
Ms. HOAGLUND: And it's this sense of impotence that the current Japanese administration is attempting to exploit...
ROBERT: Japan's neighbors don't feel that they are impotent. Can we comment on that?
CONAN: Well, that's Japan's neighbors. We're talking about Japan's self-perception rather than their neighbors' perception, which is...
ROBERT: Thank you.
CONAN: ...considerably different, Robert.
But just extend the thought for a second. This you take, or the artist takes, even to something like Hello Kitty.
Ms. HOAGLUND: Yes, this sense of cuteness of an entire nation anxious about growing up and taking responsibility because the nation-state itself has never really grown up to take responsibility also for, you know, its aggression into China and into Asia. And so it's left kind of in limbo as a nation-state.
CONAN: We're going to continue our conversation after we return from a short break. We're talking about the long shadow left on culture by the atomic bombs that fell 60 years ago in Japan and how the rubble of Hiroshima and Nagasaki may have produced a global pop culture so popular here in the US today. When we come back, we'll talk with a documentary producer about the human toll of the bombings. Are there ways you see the bomb reflected in pop culture on either side of the Pacific? (800) 989-8255. Or send us an e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm Neal Conan. Back after the break. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
Sixty years ago today, an American B-29 bomber loosed the Fat Man plutonium bomb over the Japanese city of Nagasaki. We're talking today about the cultural impact of the two atomic bomb explosions in Japan. To see photos of the arts of Japan's exploding subculture and learn more about the cultural fallout of the atomic bombs, you can visit our Web site at npr.org. Our guests are Linda Hoaglund, who grew up in Japan, now a senior film curator for the Japan Society in New York. And also with us is Marianna Torgovnick, author of "The War Complex: World War II in Our Time." And, of course, you're invited to join us. If you're an artist, painter, musician, writer, do you see an impact of the shadow of the war in the Pacific? (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK. Or e-mail us: email@example.com.
Here's a phone caller, Philip. Philip on the line with us from Michigan.
PHILIP (Caller): Hello, everyone. Yeah. My question, I guess, or comment is, you know, you look at Japan from prior to World War II, like, you know, 1937, 1935, prior, it was basically the code of the warrior, the Bushido code that was prevalent. And then I guess now--and I can see where your guests are--I can see the comments that your guests are making are accurate, that they go to this cartoon culture almost. I was stationed over there when I was in the Navy a little bit, and it really is prevalent. And then, you know, you look at the art, the early Japanese art with the lovely lines and the emphasis on form, you know, and, like, the one pine tree and stuff, and then you look at the later culture from the '60s, '70s and '80s on. And I'd just like to have your comments on that.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Linda Hoaglund.
Ms. HOAGLUND: Well, I think--I guess what I would say is that part of what Japan is struggling with is that indeed Japanese culture was very much a warrior culture and a Bushido culture, and this led directly into their aggression into China in the early '30s. There's no question about that.
What happened with the imposition of the US peace constitution and the US occupation--all of that came to a completely screeching halt and was deemed inappropriate. And so there was a new--democracy was imposed and the Japanese had to completely reinvent themselves. And I suppose some people would argue that they threw the baby out with the bathwater and that Japanese culturally are somewhat in limbo now wondering if they had to jettison and exorcise everything from before World War II.
PHILIP: Yeah, fascinating. Thank you very much for taking my call.
CONAN: Thank you, Philip.
Let me ask you, Marianna Torgovnick, I know you've written about how American ideals of heroism, so evident in all those movies from World War II...
Prof. TORGOVNICK: Correct.
CONAN: In a way, they don't--it's very difficult to get those to jibe with the end of the war and Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Prof. TORGOVNICK: Well, it is in lots of ways. And one of the things which is notable in American films is that movies about Japan, the Pacific arena, tended to disappear after the Vietnam era. When "Saving Private Ryan" came out, there was a film about the Pacific, and it didn't succeed with the populace, although it did succeed with critics. And I think it was because Vietnam tended to evoke images of the nuclear destruction. There were scenes in it of flame-bombing, and that just didn't play well.
However, the atomic bombings have made their way, I think, in a peculiar way, into American pop culture, as well. Cold War anxieties were reflected in a lot of sci-fi invasion films.
Prof. TORGOVNICK: And one of the things that I've noticed this summer and this past season is a number of plots in the popular media that have to do with the massive destruction of American culture, oftentimes with forces from within American culture. "Alias," the popular series for teen-agers and young women, ran a very extensive series about this miraculous ball that would produce a violent reaction where people would destroy each other. "24" ran a very, very elegant series about an Islamist group which was plotting all kinds of destruction. "The War of Worlds" not only includes that plot but also refers to the terrorist threat and sort of brings to the surface a lot things that have been latent in America's reaction to terrorism. And I went to see "Batman Begins" last night, and there it was again. So it's really been quite astonishing to see this theme of destruction, and in "Batman Begins," astonishingly enough, destruction that Gotham deserves from the point of view of the potential destroyers.
CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. Kim joins us. Kim calling from Flagstaff, Arizona.
KIM (Caller): Hi, there.
KIM: Hi, thank you for taking my call. I just wanted to say that it's part of our slang vocabulary. For instance, we say `nuke 'em' as a way to take care of a problem, to end a problem. And I think that was pretty evident right after 9/11, for instance. We just wanted to say `nuke 'em' to take care of the people that had attacked us. And yet--so that really wouldn't have solved anything, but yet that's our reflex as Americans.
CONAN: I wonder, Marianna Torgovnick, have you done any research into the etymology of `nuke 'em'?
Prof. TORGOVNICK: Well, it's obviously a contraction of nuclear, but one of the things that's true is that language tends to inform the way we think. I mean, if you speak about `nuking 'em'--we even talk about microwaving things as `nuking it'--and given all of the fear and loathing that nuclear destruction has created in the United States and the decades spent on making sure that nuclear deterrents would take place and nuclear disarmament would take place, it's actually kind of interesting, as your caller suggests, that that's become a casual idiom, meaning anything from `destroy 'em' to `microwave it.'
CONAN: Hmm. Kim, thanks for the observation. Appreciate it.
Later today, a documentary called "Original Child Bomb" about the human cost of the nuclear bomb airs on the Sundance Channel. In it, the filmmaker spoke to a class of New York City teen-agers after showing archival footage of Nagasaki and Hiroshima before and after the bomb. Here's one student's reaction.
(Soundbite of "Original Child Bomb")
Unidentified Teen: The possibility of any kind of nuclear war--I don't think it's even remotely any type of reality for this generation. It's something that's of the past and it seems like it's something that is in the future, but not something that affects us.
CONAN: For a new generation, this film suggests that this is the legacy of the bomb. Joining us now is Ayana Osada. She is co-producer of the documentary "Original Child Bomb." She's with us by phone from New York City.
Nice of you to join us today on TALK OF THE NATION.
Ms. AYANA OSADA (Co-producer, "Original Child Bomb"): Glad to be here. Thank you.
CONAN: What did you find from your interviews of young people, both in the US and Japan?
Ms. OSADA: Generally, the students, teen-agers, in New York were shocked and saddened by the tragedy that took place, both in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and were, or had been, unaware of the details at least of the tragedies. And in Japan, of course, we all grew up learning much more about these incidents, tragedies, than I believe the children in the US. But even the 13-year-old Japanese boy who worked with us on the film was somewhat afraid to actually go to Hiroshima with our director and was, again, saddened to be there and to feel the pain of many, many hibakusha, the victims, who are still alive today, who are still suffering 60 years later.
CONAN: I wonder, we've been talking a lot about the influences of the atomic bomb explosions on Japanese culture. What do you think--what you found out from those kinds in New York, what do you think that says about how Americans deal with our atomic past?
Ms. OSADA: Again, as your panelists had been talking before, there is a sense of impotence, incompetence and extreme dependency of Japan on its big brother, the US, who constituted the peace constitution after the war and so forth. And so Japan always--I knew, growing up in Japan, knew that Japan looked up to America for its culture, for it subculture, for many, many things. And so it was kind of a given, I felt, that the American people, young people, today just felt like Japan was, you know, a little brother and a friendly country. And they were, again, shocked to find out the details and really each story, having an incredibly emotional sense of what are the consequences of the bombs.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. As a Japanese person--as you said, you grew up there--I wonder, do you agree with Murakami's argument about postwar Japan? It sounds as if you do.
Ms. OSADA: I do. And I think, to go further, this whole otaku culture or the timid expression of the hidden anger and the questioning of these contradictions that Linda had eloquently expressed before...
Ms. OSADA: ...I think all of this is sort of pointing us to come to a point where we could maybe find out what exactly happened and what are the pains that people felt on both sides. And I really think that had we recognized that the pains did not have to be mutually exclusive, as in you can be patriotic Japanese or American and still know what happened on these days.
Ms. OSADA: And that's what we're trying to do with our film.
CONAN: I wonder, Japan would have been devastated by the fire bombings alone. Even if the atomic bombings had never happened, Japan would have been defeated if the atomic bombs had never been dropped. What particularly about Japanese culture do you think reflects the atomic aspect of the defeat that did happen?
Ms. OSADA: I believe things such as the tutfunatamu(ph)--I guess Linda had mentioned this. There are many cartoons and animes that deal with the nuclear Armageddon particularly, that have specific images of the mushroom clouds...
Ms. OSADA: ...and also mutations and also radiation sickness that follow, which is what happened in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, which is why we still have people who suffer from leukemia and all kinds of cancers because of that for many, many years and generations possibly to go.
CONAN: Hmm. Let's get another caller on the line. And this is Elizabeth. Elizabeth calling us from Tempe, Arizona.
ELIZABETH (Caller): Yes. Thank you for taking my call.
ELIZABETH: I'm actually calling about that, the graphic novels. Where I was in school and we were learning about World War II, I had read--well, we called them comic books, but it was called--I think it's Barefoot Gen. I'm not sure if I'm saying it right. But it had such a tremendous impact on the way that I understood the effects of the nuclear bomb and what actually happened to the people as it's told from the point of view of a young child. And seeing these graphic images almost, you know, in comic book form of people with their skin just melting off their face, it was something that just had a huge impact on the way I viewed the war and what happened. It was no longer an abstraction; it was very clear. And I was wondering if you could talk about things like that and, unfortunately, how maybe rare that education is in our culture.
CONAN: Well, for the first part, let's go to Linda Hoaglund.
Ms. HOAGLUND: Yes. Thank you for bringing up Barefoot Gen. In addition to being a graphic novel, it's also a very, very powerful animated film. And the footage from that film of the moment when the author, who was five years old, looked down at a stone and the bomb exploded behind him, killing his parents, is, to me, the most powerful image of the atomic bomb that I've ever seen. And it actually led me to muse whether or not the power of animation in Japan is a direct result of the bomb and trying to devise a way of looking at what is unwatchable. So that--it's not an accident that animation became so popular, because it became the only way that you could actually look at and imagine what had happened and the Armageddon.
What do you think, Ayana?
Ms. OSADA: Thank you. I actually--I really appreciate the mention of "Barefoot Gen" because the footage from "Barefoot Gen" of the moment of the impact is in our film, "Original Child Bomb," because the artist, Keiji Nakazawa, and Chu Blu-shat(ph), the publisher, has kindly given us permission to use that footage and--in our film. And I really would strongly urge anyone to--you know, who has the chance to watch our film, to look at this scene, because like Linda said, I believe this is one of the images that has always stayed with me as a child, growing up, because we all watched this or read this comic book.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. We're talking about the atomic echoes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 60 years after the bombing of Nagasaki. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Marianna Torgovnick, I wanted to bring you in on this phone call, as well, on the aspect that Elizabeth was talking about in terms of education of Americans.
Prof. TORGOVNICK: The education for Americans on the atomic bombings is very spotty, and one of the things that I've found in my work is that a lot of World War II memory resides through the family, and a lot of World War II memory is different, depending on which coast you grew up in. On the West Coast, people are much more likely to be attuned to things like Japanese--the internment camps for Japanese-Americans and much more likely to be attuned to the atomic bombings. On the East Coast, while those things are certainly known and the internment camps increasingly known since the 1970s, there tends to be an emphasis on Holocaust education, and it's education into the Holocaust which tends to come first. As I say, a lot of World War II memory comes through the family, and the film which was done sounds absolutely amazing, but I--it would be interesting to see whether West Coast teen-agers would say exactly the same thing that the East Coast teen-agers said.
CONAN: Both will have a chance to see it later today when it's on its American debut on the Sundance Channel. I did want to ask you, Linda Hoaglund--you're a senior film curator as well. You're making--doing a project now on Japanese films, "After War..." What characterizes the difference between Japanese films before and after the war?
Ms. HOAGLUND: Well, I would say that it's not so much a broad characterization of the difference. I mean, certainly, during the war there were plenty of propaganda films that were made, and there wasn't that long a stretch before the war between silent films and talkies, although Japan already had a very strong film studio business in place. The series that I've curated that we're going to be showing at the Japan Society starting on September 27th, "After War...," simply illustrates my position, which is that, in fact, Japanese filmmakers have grappled with memories of war, memories of aggression, memories of defeat and of the bomb in really, literally, hundreds of films, both that deal with the war directly and indirectly. And there are so many of these films.
And I suppose part of it is that Japan is constantly being accused of never having come to terms with its own aggression with the war, and I would argue that many filmmakers, and not just art filmmakers and documentarians but also popular entertainment directors, have really grappled with the war in such imaginative ways that we're just going to show six of them. And we hope that any of you who are in New York, or not, will come to New York to come and see these films.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get one more caller in before we have to go. Erin, Erin calling from Mesa, Arizona.
ERIN (Caller): Yeah. I was kind of interested as I was thinking about it--my grandparents and my parents were alive when the bombs were dropped, and you're seeing that, you know, the culture in Japan became a self-loathing culture in the young people directly after that. I find it interesting, as the caller before me, when she was explaining that, you know, comic books and things taught her about what happened--we had also very graphic teachings in our school about what happened and how horrible it was, I mean, I would say from fourth grade onward. And it's interesting to me that my generation is the one having the issues with this self-loathing--you know, with the grunge music and, you know, really negative self-images and things like that.
CONAN: We just have a few seconds left and, Marianna Torgovnick...
ERIN: But it's kind of a generation after...
CONAN: ...I wondered if you wanted to respond to that.
Prof. TORGOVNICK: Well, it wasn't clear to me where the caller went to school, so it's a little hard to respond to that. But it does--oftentimes, generations that don't directly experience it will be responding to the image of things so, in a sense, it may not be surprising that it would turn up in a later generation.
CONAN: Erin, thanks for the phone call. I'm sorry we didn't have time to give it the full amount of time that it needed, but we appreciate it. And thanks to our guests: Linda Hoaglund, who was kind enough to join us from vacation, senior film curator for the Japan Society.
Thank you so much.
Ms. HOAGLUND: Thank you.
CONAN: Marianna Torgovnick joined us from the studios at Duke University, cultural critic there and professor. We appreciate your time today.
Prof. TORGOVNICK: It was a pleasure. Thanks.
CONAN: And Ayana Osada, good luck with the movie.
Ms. OSADA: Thank you.
CONAN: It debuts later today on the Sundance Channel.
When we come back from a short break, Jim Dale, the voice of Harry Potter. It's TALK OF THE NATION after the news.
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