The Last Atomic Bomb: A Survivor’s Story

Directed by Robert Richter

92 minutes

By Marliyn Bechtel

This gripping documentary, tells the story of Sakue Shimohira, who as a 10-year-old girl survived the U.S. atomic bombing of Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945, and who has dedicated her life to sharing her experience so that others will never have to face such a terrible ordeal.

In a calm but intense manner, Shimohira shares what it was like to identify her mother’s body by a single gold tooth, to see her older brother die of radiation sickness and to mourn her sister’s suicide after years of physical and psychological agony.

Her first-person account, including her own battles with radiation-induced illness, is intertwined with deeply disturbing documentary footage of the carnage that followed the blast and bland propaganda accounts issued by the U.S. government and media. Expert commentary by nuclear scientists and antinuclear weapons activists conveys the nascent Cold War political realities behind use of the bomb when Japan was already seeking to surrender, as well as the immense destructive power of the bomb and its successors.

The U.S. government’s years of censoring any mention of the consequences of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings while building an overwhelming arsenal of ever more powerful nuclear weapons including the hydrogen bomb, are graphically described.

The film follows the odyssey of Shimohira and college students Haruka Katarao and Fumioki Kusano as they travel to London, Paris, Washington, and United Nations headquarters in 2005, the 60th anniversary year of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, meeting with young audiences along the way. In a telling sequence, the three carry their letters directly to the doors of 10 Downing Street and the Elysee Palace, inviting British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac to come to Nagasaki. But blocked by the steel fence surrounding the White House, they are brusquely told they must send their letter to President Bush by regular mail.

Along the way, in one especially moving encounter, Shimohira meets a survivor of the World War II Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz.

As one commentator observes in the film, “We still have time to act to get rid of nuclear weapons before they get rid of us.” Shimohira and her young companions convey an urgent message to the film’s audiences, as well as to the many young people with whom they speak: “Think for yourselves what should be done to lead us to world peace.”

Special showings

The film with be shown Oct. 16 at the Grand Lake Theater, 3200 Grand Ave., Oakland, Calif.; reception at 6 p.m., $25; film showing at 7 p.m., $10. Benefit for Western States Legal Foundation. Information: (510) 839-5877.

In New York City, the film will be shown Nov. 8-14, at 9 p.m., at the Pioneer Theater, E. 3rd Street near Avenue A. Tickets are $6.50-$10. Information: (212) 591-0434.