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All that Remains

Wednesday 12 October 2016, by SIGNIS

UK, 2016, 119 minutes, Colour.
Leo Ashizawa.
Directed by Ian Higgins, Dominic Higgins.

Melbourne, October, 12th, 2016 (Peter Malone). The evocative title of this film could will refer to the August 8th, 1945, bombing of Nagasaki, the second atomic bomb, after Hiroshima on August 6th, dropped on a Japanese city. After the bombing and the almost annihilation of the city and so many of its inhabitants, what remains?

This film is the work of two British brothers, Ian and Dominic Higgins. They have made several short films and the feature about the apparitions of the Virgin Mary at Fatima, The 13th Day.

One of the characteristics of the film is that they do so much of the work themselves, from writing, directing and producing, photography, editing and the special effects. The special effects are quite elaborate, blends of photography and animation, often giving a surreal impressionistic perspective on characters and events. The first part of the film is quite realistic. There are suggestions in the storytelling with this impressionistic mode, but it comes into full force in the second part of the film, the extended and quite harrowing portrayal of the destruction by the atomic bomb on Nagasaki.

Many (most) audiences will not be familiar with the central character of this film, a Japanese scientist, Takashi Nagai. By the end of the film, the filmmakers have drawn a portrait of a significant Japanese character and someone who could one day be called a saint. The film introduces him in 1932, a young man, studying, interested in medicine and atomic research. We see him and his family, his friends, but we also see him have a religious experience at Christmas, going to a Catholic Church, the celebration, Silent Night, and his own declaration of the effect that it had on him – which leads him to meet a priest and to be received into the Church.

(Nagasaki was the venue for the crucifixion of 26 martyrs in 1597, the subject of the Higgins Brothers’ animation short, The Martyrs of Nagasaki.)

During the 1930s, he was employed at a university, conducting research. He also married and had children.

Nagai continued his work at the University into and throughout the Japanese war in China and the experience of World War II, sending his family sometimes to the country for safety. While the film focuses on him, there are glimpses of the war, the Japanese imperialism, the beginnings of the Japanese defeat, the clash with the United States – and the dropping of the bomb.

Nagai’s wife is killed in the dropping of the bomb and he himself is injured. The latter part of the film is about his reaction to the experience – and asking what remains? In his slow recovery, he draws on his own personal integrity, his faith, ruminating on what the devastating experience means, the sadness for those who died, the impact of those who survived.

He is encouraged to tell his story, to write. His work is published, including The Bells of Nagasaki.he becomes well-known, takes a hope-filled view – including a perspective on the survivors in Japan. While the Americans always said that the dropping of the bomb was to save lives, American lives, Nagai suggests that it also saved many more lives of Japanese in the final months of the war. He advocates for the nuclear research for progress.

In the "Atomic-bomb rescue and relieve report" of October 1945 he has stated: "Everything was finished. Our mother land was defeated. Our university had collapsed and classrooms were reduced to ashes. We, one by one, were wounded and fell. The houses we lived in were burned down, the clothes we wore were blown up, and our families were either dead or injured. What are we going to say? We only wish to repeat this tragedy with the human race. We should use the principle of the atomic atom (sic). Go forward in the research of atomic energy contributing to the progress of civilization. A misfortune will be then transformed to a good fortune. The world civilization will change with the utilization of atomic energy. If a new and fortunate world can be made, the souls of so many victims will rest in peace."

His work was recognised by authorities and he became a significant figurehead for hope after the war. The film also indicates that he is being considered by the Catholic Church as a possible saint.

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