Friday, December 9, 2016

Kuro ga Ita Natsu (Summer with Kuro)

A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths are a statistic.
                    -- aphorism attributed (without much proof) to Josef Stalin

Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, artists have grappled with the problem of presenting massive tragedies in ways that are neither overwhelming nor overly distancing. How do you present the Holocaust - or the genocides in Armenia, Bosnia, and Rwanda - or the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - or what's happening in Syria right now, for that matter - in ways that allow people to relate to and comprehend the incomprehensible?

Nakazawa Kenji, a survivor of the bombing of Hiroshima, wrestled with this dilemma all his life, and he returned to the subject repeatedly. He was involved with four anime films about the bombing:
  • Hadashi no Gen (Barefoot Gen) - 1983 - available commercially
  • Kuroi Ame ni Utarete (Lashed by the Black Rain) - 1984 - subbed by Orphan
  • Hadashi no Gen 2 (Barefoot Gen 2) - 1986 - available commercially
  • Kuro ga Ita Natsu (Summer with Kuro) - 1990, and now subbed b Orphan
The first three reflected Nakazawa Kenji's bitter personal experiences - his family was killed in the bombing. They were tragic, angry, and often deeply anti-American. For the last, Kuro, Nakazawa wrote an original screenplay and took an entirely different approach.

Kuro ga Ita Natsu tells the story of a family living in Hiroshima near the end of the war: a father, a mother, and two elementary school students, Nobuko and her younger brother Makoto. Unlike in Barefoot Gen, the hardships of war - in particular, the lack of food and prevailing malnutrition among the poor - are not in evidence. Except for air raid drills and enforced patriotic salutes at school, Nobuko and Makoto lead fairly normal lives.

One day, Nobuko finds a black-and-white kitten that has been orphaned by a killer band of crows.


She brings the cat home and persuades her reluctant parents to let her keep it. Her younger brother Makoto names the kitten Kuro. Both children grow attached to the cat and try to scrounge food for their hungry pet without taking from the family's limited rations. They weather several mild adventures and watch their young kitten grow into a mature and intelligent cat. And then, on August 6, 1945... I can't say more without spoiling the plot, but the story uses a narrow focus to both convey and humanize the tragedy of the event.

Kuro ga Ita Natsu was co-written and directed by Shirato Takeshi, who directed the strikingly different Kuroi Ame ni Utarete. The music by Satou Mikio is mostly cheerful, reflecting the slice of life approach of the first three-quarters of the film, but turns doleful after the bombing. There is no information on the voice cast is public anime databases.

Iri translated the movie, and Yogicat timed it. I edited and typeset, and Nemesis and Calyrica did QC. M74 encoded from a Japanese DVD ISO, but the DVD is mastered horribly, with blended frames throughout. Despite that, the moving signs tracked reasonably well, so most signs are typeset.

A few translation notes:
  • Makoto pretends he is Tange Sazen, a fictional samurai featured in serials and movies. His stylized laugh, "Gah hah hah...", is intended to be like a samurai's.
  • Nobuko and Makoto attend a National People's School, the name given to elementary schools starting in 1941.
  • A ho-an-den was a small building that housed a portrait of the current Emperor and Empress. It was typically found at elementary schools.
  • The marsh in Kawaguchi-cho is between the Ota-gawa and Tenma-gawa rivers on this map.
  • Funairi-hon-machi is a tram stop in HIroshima. 
With this release of Kuro ga Ita Natsu, all of Nakazawa Kenji's animated films about the Hiroshima bombing are now available to an English-speaking audience. As different as they are in approach, they all serve as indelible warnings about the horrors of atomic warfare. Those reminders are as important today as they were when the films were made; perhaps more so.

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