The Last Atomic Bomb

  • 2006
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Documentary

Aimed squarely at a generation for whom the sheer, massive horror of atomic bombs is remote — like a special effect, only less so — Robert Richter's documentary adopts a sober, measured tone that echoes the voice of 70-year-old Sakue Shimohira, who survived both the blast at Nagasaki and the radiation poisoning that continued to claim victims long after...read more

Where to Watch

Available to Stream

  • Watch on
Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
Rating:

Aimed squarely at a generation for whom the sheer, massive horror of atomic bombs is remote — like a special effect, only less so — Robert Richter's documentary adopts a sober, measured tone that echoes the voice of 70-year-old Sakue Shimohira, who survived both the blast at Nagasaki and the radiation poisoning that continued to claim victims long after the rubble was cleared. Shimohira lost her entire family to either the initial blast or its aftereffects and was herself shunned, as were many survivors. Dubbed hibakusha, the walking wounded, with their virulent rashes, bloody stool and sores that never healed, were often treated like plague carriers — in part because the postwar American military systematically suppressed medical information about radiation-related illnesses. Shimohira eventually found purpose in telling her story, educating young people and reminding politicians and statesmen worldwide that raining "ruin from the air" (as President Harry S. Truman promised if Japan failed to surrender unconditionally) exacts a horrifying human price from noncombatants. Richert's portrait of Shimohira and other survivors is intertwined with the story of America's decision to use the atomic bomb, then the most devastating weapon of war that had ever existed. Richter, 76, is the last working member of Fred Friendly and Edward R. Murrow's fabled CBS Reports documentary team, and he juxtaposes interviews — particularly Shimohira's vivid memories of suffering, death and devastation — with official postwar reporting that ignored or downplayed the misery of civilians and chirped about the new freedoms the Japanese enjoyed under American occupation. He also turns to recently declassified government materials to pose a deeply disturbing question: Were Hiroshima and Nagasaki really bombed to hasten the end of WWII and save American lives? Or were the two cities sacrificed to make clear who among the Allies was going to be in charge of postwar policy-making and justify the vast resources that had been poured into the Manhattan Project over the course of three years? Even viewers who feel they've heard it all about the "Good War" might be surprised to know that Truman's own chief of staff, Admiral William D. Leahy, and U.S. Army Air Force Commander Henry "Hap" Arnold concurred that dropping what Leahy called "this barbarous weapon" was unnecessary, since it was common knowledge in allied military circles that Japan was starving, demoralized and seriously considering surrender. But in the end, the tiny Shimohira's voice is the most powerful, bearing witness in hopes that future generations will choose peace over war. (In subtitled Japanese and English)

Cast & Details See all »

  • Released: 2006
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Aimed squarely at a generation for whom the sheer, massive horror of atomic bombs is remote — like a special effect, only less so — Robert Richter's documentary adopts a sober, measured tone that echoes the voice of 70-year-old Sakue Shimohira, who survive… (more)

Show More »

Trending TonightSee all »