Decontextualization of Hirohito
Decontextualization of Hirohito:
Historical Memory Loss
in Docudrama 'Hiroshima'
Department of Journalism
University of Texas at Austin
2212 San Gabriel St. Apt. #230
Austin, TX 78705
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Qualitative Studies Division
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
April 1, 1997
This paper is a discourse analysis of Showtime miniseries "Hiroshima,"
aired in August 1995, to explore how Hirohito was depicted to suit the dominant
ideology in line with the traditional conservative historical account of him as
a robotic pacifist in contrast with aggressive Japanese military. The
revisionist view of Hirohito, however, presents a very different picture of his
prewar political power, aggressiveness, and disrespect of non-Japanese Asians,
which were totally ignored in "Hiroshima."
Decontextualization of Hirohito
There was one notable absentee from the prisoner's dock, as Sir William Webb,
Australia, the Tribunal President, pointed out. That was Emperor Hirohito.
pre-war Japanese system he would seem to be as great a conspirator against
as any of his Ministers, Generals or Admirals. But, as Sir William went on to
out, the Emperor was granted immunity and 'his immunity was no doubt decided
the best interests of the Allied Powers.' That put the question of his guilt
innocence outside the province of the Tribunal. Whether it would have been
otherwise no one now can say. If the decision saved lives, if it smoothed the
occupation and made easier the process of democratization of Japan, it should
have been the wiser course. Only the future has the answer to that riddle.
New York Times, November 13, 1948
Since the end of World War II, the Showa Emperor, Hirohito, served as the
"national symbol" of Japan until he passed away in 1989. The postwar Japanese
Constitution, practically drafted by the Allied Powers General Command
Headquarters (GHQ), deprived him of his prewar sovereignty and various political
powers (Kawahara, 1990, pp. 164-168). Despite long-term controversies in both
Japan and its neighboring Asian countries over his role in and responsibility
for Japanese military invasions before and during the Pacific War, this
"national symbol" prescribed by the postwar Japanese Constitution seems to have
functioned so effectively that most Japanese as well as Americans are convinced
of his neutral or pacifist position in the wartime political process.
The fact, however, is that the prewar Japanese Constitution (i.e., the
Meiji Constitution) conferred on Japanese emperors the direct command of Japan's
army and navy, and the final authority of war declaration and peace treaties
(Wakatsuki, 1995, pp. 150-153). The dehistoricizing power of the postwar
constitutional status of the Japanese Imperial Family is well reflected in a
nationwide opinion poll conducted in September 1993 by the Mainichi Shimbun
(Japan's third largest-circulation daily newspaper) D 84% of respondents agreed
with the status quo of the Japanese imperial system as a "symbol," while only
10% supported the idea of its abolition (Prime Minister's Office, 1995, p. 450).
When talking of the Pacific War in the U.S.-Japanese context, the typical
opinion of Japanese conservatives can be summarized in their government's
position. Miura (1995) presents some Japanese politicians' statements that
defended past Japanese invasions as self-defense or liberation of Asia from
white domination, and thus regards them as fundamentally denying Japan's war
responsibility (pp. 29-33). Moreover, Shintaro Ishihara (1989/1990), a former
Japanese Diet member, exhibits his outright resentment of U.S. nuclear attacks,
blaming Americans for their "virulent racism" since they dropped no atomic bombs
on Germany, and proceeds to contend that American racism is the root cause for
trade conflicts between the two nations (p. 28). Not a single glimmer of their
soul-searching on Japanese imperialism that annihilated millions of non-Japanese
Asians can be found in their statements.
On the other hand, the distinction between "evil" and "good" seems
clear-cut to most Americans. One of the most recent examples is the Smithsonian
atomic bomb exhibit controversy. Yoneyama (1995) reports that on May 11, 1995,
retired Maj. Gen. Charles W. Sweeney, U.S. Air Force, who flew on both the
Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing missions, testified before the U.S. Senate
Committee on Rules and Administration, that Japanese government officials are
impudent to claim that they were also war victims and that Hiroshima and
Nagasaki were the equivalent of the Holocaust. He went on to state that there
are some American academics who support this view, thus aiding the Japanese
50-year attempt to "rewrite" both their own and American histories (pp.
175-176). It seems that the unmovable historical "fact" on his mind is the
evilness of the Japanese, which justified the use of atomic bombs.
Whatever arguments are made, Hirohito is almost always missing or at least
de-emphasized in the debate about the Pacific War. Why does this always happen?
There are at least two functional advantages of decontexualizing Hirohito in the
discussion, one for the Japanese and the other for Americans.
Awaya (1995) points out that most of the Japanese wartime generation shares
a sense of conspiratorial guilt with Hirohito since many of them also committed
numerous war crimes under his name. This recognition makes the wartime
generation hesitant to be openly critical of him because the logical extension
of such criticisms is reflective self-criticisms (pp. 92-93). In short,
discussion of Hirohito's war responsibility opens a Pandora's box for the
Japanese; therefore, their communal sense of guilt with Hirohito makes them
vulnerable to unconscious avoidance of him in the debate over the Pacific War.
For Americans, World War II was a "people's war" against Fascism, not an
imperialist war, in line with their self-image of a guardian of democracy and
freedom. "For the United States to step forward as a defender of helpless
countries matched its image in American high school history textbooks, but not
its record in world affairs" (Zinn, 1995, p. 399). What is missing from those
textbooks may be explication of U.S. political motives underlying such incidents
as the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902, and State Secretary Hay's
declaration of the "Open-Door Policy" in China in 1899, both of which were
already predictive of America's future clash course with Japan over
imperialistic domination of Asia.
Then, the fact that Hirohito, who had been frequently equated with Hitler
and Mussolini in various wartime propaganda programs and movies (for a CBS
program called "Our Secret Weapon" as an example, see Braverman, 1996, pp.
78-79), got immunity to postwar indictment, does not quite resonate with
"democracy" which the United States allegedly had fought for. There was,
therefore, a need for creation of a "myth" D pacifist Hirohito D by ascribing
all the war culpability to Japanese top-rank military officers such as Gen.
Tojo. Regardless of Asian nations' pressure to put him on trial, Hirohito was
eliminated from the prosecution list of the International Military Tribunal for
the Far East (IMTFE), which was nothing but the product of the Japanese plea to
save him and U.S. political consideration (i.e., smoothing of Allied military
occupation of and prevention of communization of Japan) that later affected
other Allied nations (e.g., Awaya, 1991, p. 390; Buruma, 1989, p. 12;
Inouwe, 1991, pp. 1-4; Kurita, 1989, p. 190). This covert semi-conspiratorial
Japanese-U.S. relationship is extremely inconvenient for the American authentic
historical account of World War II, because oppressed Asians were completely
ignored in the trial process for the sake of the Allied powers' political
interests (Yoneyama, 1995, p. 178-189). Thus, taking Hirohito out of the debate
helps seamless ideological historical narratives, whether Japanese or American,
to be reproduced uncritically. The bottom line is that it has served their
mutual national interest.
In August 1995, Showtime aired an original mini-series called "Hiroshima:
The Decision That Changed the World," commemorating the 50th anniversary of
dropping atomic bombs on Japan. This two-part, three-hour docudrama, co-produced
by Telescene Communications of Montreal and Daiei Co. Ltd. of Tokyo, consists of
re-enactments intercut with documentary and newsreel footage, and present-day
interviews with survivors, key military personnel, and scientists involved with
the atomic bomb development. The first segment deals chiefly with the period
from Truman's inauguration (April 12, 1945) to his being informed of success of
the first atomic bomb test while at Potsdam (July 16, 1945), and the second half
deals with the remaining history leading to U.S. nuclear attacks and the
Japanese surrender. This show was immediately followed by the "Making of
'Hiroshima'" (i.e., inside story of the show's production).
Also noteworthy is the fact that Canadian director Roger Spottiswoode took
charge of the American sequences, and Japanese director Koreyoshi Kurahara the
Japanese counterpart. The program blended both parts, basically following the
chronological order of historical events. In order to present the Japanese
perspective, Spottiswoode, who originally came up with the concept and the
format of this docudrama, "decided to stick with authenticity and film the
[Japanese] scenes in Japanese with English subtitles" (Holloway, 1995, p. 7).
Although the main theme of "Hiroshima" is how political decision-making
processes in the United States and Japan led to U.S. nuclear attacks on Japan,
it serves as excellent material for probing the ideological depiction of
Hirohito in that it did not avoid putting him on the screen. Hirohito's presence
in "Hiroshima" is consistent with the historical master-narratives reflecting
both Japanese and American coherent cultural understanding of the wartime
In this paper, how Hirohito is ideologically depicted in "Hiroshima" at the
point of encoding D dominant or preferred meanings (see Hall, 1980) D is
examined through discourse analysis. However, historical examination of his
responsibility for the war is first in order. Especially in recent years,
revisionist reading of wartime history, which had long been suppressed in Japan,
has been gradually gaining power in revealing hidden aspects of Hirohito.
For instance, Awaya (1991) points out that more and more Japanese scholars
have started employing the expression the "Fifteen-Year War," instead of the
Pacific War, to emphasize the historical continuity among three interrelated
wars D the Manchurian Incident in 1931, the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945, and
the Pacific War (p. 386). As Tuchman (1994) states, "[a]ny social phenomenon
must be understood in its historical context," which includes an interpretative
framework that provides the "meaning of history" (p. 306). Thus, Hirohito's war
responsibility also should be investigated in the revisionist view of
contextually grounded history, not in traditional historical accounts of
The Showa Emperor
What are widely-held images of Hirohito, which are resonant with both
Japanese and American understanding of world history? Sincere? Merciful? Or "the
first gentleman of Japan," as Gen. MacArthur told us (Buruma, 1989, p. 13)?
Because half a century has been passed since the end of World War II, and more
importantly, Hirohito has passed away, our memories of him will deteriorate day
by day. Based primarily on several Japanese revisionist historians'
interpretations of the diaries and memoirs of certain persons who were close to
Hirohito, this review, though not comprehensive, attempts to delineate hidden or
ignored historical aspects of (1) Hirohito's political power, (2) his view of
the world, and (3) his personality. As Awaya (1991) states, study of those
diaries and memoirs "gives us a very vivid and credible image of Emperor Showa"
(1) Political power of Hirohito
After the Pacific War, both Japan and the United States promulgated a
uniform account of Hirohito's political engagements in wartime Japan. The
account says that in his reign, he made only two or three exceptional political
decisions. For instance, feeling that none of the books about Hirohito published
after his death did justice to him, Hoyt (1992) states in the preface that
"[o]nly three times in Hirohito's reign was he able to break the bonds of the
imperial system that imprisoned him and lash out against the Gunbatsu [the
military and naval conspirators]" (p. vii). These three incidents are
resignation of Prime Minister Giichi Tanaka in 1928 in conjunction with
assassination of the Manchurian warlord Chang Tso-lin (pp. 53- 63), suppression
of the coup rebels in the February 26 Incident in 1936 (pp. 90-103), and the
Japanese surrender (pp. 141-147). Similarly, Buruma (1989) mentions the last two
incidents (p. 12). In short, this view highlights Hirohito as a constitutional
Thinking logically, however, it is extremely unnatural that Hirohito always
played a role of a robotic puppet, despite the fact that he made the most
important decision by himself D the Japanese surrender. For instance, there is
written evidence for several cases that when a new prime minister formed his
Cabinet, Hirohito gave to the prime minister his own well-thought directions for
domestic and foreign policies, which is contradictory to the image of a robot
(Inouwe, 1991, pp. 43-49).
Moreover, the uniquely Japanese decision-making process D nemawashi D
should be taken into consideration. According to Midooka (1990), nemawashi is
"groundwork laid unobtrusively in advance or behind-the-scenes negotiations
aimed at reaching a consensus" (p. 485). The point is that almost all proposals
for domestic and foreign policies were first presented to, and were then
carefully examined by Hirohito. If he did not like a proposal, he ordered
authoritative proposers to rework it. Conversely, there were very few
significant incidents about which he had no prior knowledge, including the
Japanese Pearl Harbor attack (Inouwe, 1991, pp. 178-181). In this sense, he
practically made his own spontaneous judgments. Before official appointments for
major posts (e.g., prime ministers, lord keepers of the privy seal, generals,
admirals), Hirohito inspected the list of the proposed personnel, and expressed
his opinion, which most of the time affected the final outcome (Inouwe, 1991,
Because of the execution of former Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo, which
was the sentence handed down in the IMTFE, we tend to scapegoat him as the most
evil Japanese leader. The truth, however, is that nobody had tried to be as
loyal to Hirohito as Tojo (Yamada & Kouketsu, 1991, pp. 32, 126-127). Hirohito
himself evaluated Tojo as one of the most loyal military personnel (Takahashi,
1989, p. 137). Further, as signs of defeat gradually showed up in the latter
half of the Pacific War, those close to Hirohito, including the Imperial Family,
gained power by attempting to shift all war responsibility to Tojo and the army
officials. They worried about the possibility of blame being placed on Hirohito
and the entire imperial system in the future (Inouwe, 1991, pp. 209-218; Yamada
& Kouketsu, 1991, pp. 111-149). How successful this attempt was can be answered
by taking a look at the judgments of the IMTFE.
From this review of his political involvement, we have to judge that
Hirohito had not been a puppet-like constitutional monarch. He carefully made
his own decisions, and directed his military (i.e., the Imperial Army and Navy)
to execute his direct and indirect orders faithfully.
(2) Hirohito's view of the world
The traditional view of Hirohito as a constitutional monarch tends to
generate a positive image of him. Hata (1984) is sympathetic to Hirohito. He
especially emphasizes Hirohito's desire for "peace" and states that only eager
young cadets wanted to continue war. He even goes on to say that the suicides of
war leaders made Hirohito look extremely culpable for the war because somebody
had to take responsibility for the war on trial (pp. 166-168). Overemphasis
on Hirohito's "last" political decision invents an aura of "pacifism" behind
him. However, we have to make a clear distinction between "cease-fire" and
"pacifism." Was Hirohito really a "pacifist"?
Not really. Regarding initial military successes in 1941, Hirohito frankly
exhibited his delight and gratification, and conferred official praise on the
Imperial Army and Navy (Yamada & Kouketsu, 1991, pp. 54-55, 89). Inouwe (1991)
points out that Hirohito had done the same thing before D the year after the
Kwantung Army (a branch of his military) took offense in Manchuria in 1931 (pp.
88-90). As the situation of the Pacific War was going against Japan day by day,
Hirohito insistently kept asking high-class military officers whether his
military could still "give a blow" to the United States (Inouwe, 1991, pp.
202-203; Takahashi, 1989, pp. 93-94). Even after the Tojo cabinet was dissolved
(July 17, 1944), his militaristic aggressiveness and persistence on continuation
of the war were seen until the German surrender (Yamada & Kouketsu, 1991, pp.
Thus, we can see in Hirohito the image of a "strategist," rather than a
"pacifist." Moreover, he hesitated to stop the war and make negotiations
whenever he saw a chance that Japan would win, or had a desperate desire for
victory (for his persistence on continuation of the Sino-Japanese War of
1937-1945, see Inouwe, 1991, pp. 115-117, 238-239). In other words, at least
during the Fifteen-Year War, he did not care at all about the suffering of
non-Japanese Asians caused by his military. His official statements after the
war ostensibly show his semi-racist attitudes toward Asian countries. While he
told the British royal family that with "heartbreaking feelings" he had put his
signature on the war declaration that was "against his will," this very same war
was an "unfortunate incident" in relation to China, and an "unfortunate past" in
the Japanese-Korean relationship (Takahashi, 1989, pp. 133-134, 243, & 262).
This tendency is also found in a transcription of his monologue of his feelings
and account about the Fifteen-Year War, which was addressed to his close aides
(Showa tenno no dokuhaku, 1990). Both Awaya (1991) and Inouwe (1991) point out
that he seemed to feel no sense of guilt for the war that brutally killed
millions of Asians.
The decisive example of Hirohito's "sense of guilt" is his statement made
in the Imperial Council held on August 14, 1945, in which he decided on
surrender. Talking about the imminent threat of defeat facing Japan, he referred
to the Meiji Emperor's (Hirohito's grandfather) situation at the time of the
three-nation interference, in which the three imperialistic powers D Russia,
France and Germany D required Japan to return to China the Liaodong Peninsula
seized as the result of the Japanese victory of the Sino-Japanese War of
1894-1895. He stated that he would like to expect the future recovery of Japan
while bearing the unbearable at this moment (Takahashi, 1989, pp. 106-107).
To Hirohito, therefore, the Japanese surrender to the Allied Nations was
similar to the situation around the period of the three-nation interference.
Then, was he saying that he was willing to cause this war again when Japan would
recover? Yamada and Kouketsu (1991) think so (p. 242). The point here is that
Hirohito expressed no remorse toward non-Japanese Asians oppressed and
brutalized by the Japanese. In his view, Japan attempted to "liberate"
non-Japanese Asians being oppressed by the Whites, but simply failed. If Japan's
manslaughtering sprees had really emancipated Asian countries, more than 20
million non-Japanese Asians would have long been gratified in heaven.
(3) Hirohito's personality
It has been widely disseminated that in his first meeting with MacArthur at
the American Embassy on September 27, 1945, Hirohito offered to bear the "sole
responsibility" for the war, showed his willingness to submit himself to
whatever judgment MacArthur would make, including hanging, and desired to save
his people from starvation (Takahashi, 1989, p. 117). Yet, as we all know,
MacArthur and Hirohito had agreed to keep the meeting's proceedings secret, and
even now, we are not sure what exactly happened during the meeting. So, where
did this leak first come from? Of course, the primary source was always Gen.
MacArthur. An interesting irony is that in the notes made by the interpreter of
this meeting, which were later published, there is no mention of Hirohito
exhibiting his willingness to take the "sole responsibility" (Kawahara, 1990,
pp. 147-148). If Hirohito actually made this statement, we are supposed to
believe that the interpreter "inadvertently" left out this critical information
no matter how implausible it seems.
It is true that in the August 14, 1945 Imperial Conference, Hirohito said
he did not care what would happen to him. Yet, in Showa tenno no dokuhaku
(1990), we can see his attempt to avoid any war responsibility: denial of his
authority in the wartime decision-making process, and presentation of himself as
a "pacifist." Considering the fact that this monologue was produced by Hidenari
Terasaki, who worked as a liaison between the GHQ and Hirohito after the war, it
is conceivable that both the U.S. Occupation Army and Hirohito needed some
material to constitute part of evidence for his innocence (p. 99).
Moreover, even when Hirohito finally came to feel inclined toward
cease-fire negotiations in 1945, he still stuck to maintenance of the "national
polity," which led to the further brutalization in the Pacific and the almost
complete devastation of Japan. As Yamada and Kouketsu (1991) contend, the
meaning of the national polity to him was not the welfare of the Japanese
public, but the status of emperor and the Imperial Family (p. 201). The
image of Hirohito as a "merciful father" of the Japanese seems to be a
carefully-constructed social reality. Also, Hirohito was not a benevolent god,
but just another human being. As the war situation was going from bad to worse,
Hirohito seemed to have a nervous breakdown, and became easily excited because
of his disagreements with other members of the Imperial Family (Inouwe, 1991,
pp. 228-229; Yamada & Kouketsu, 1989, pp. 143-144).
To sum up, "[t]he conclusion we must draw from these documents is that
Emperor Showa, during the years from his enthronement until the defeat in the
war, was not necessarily a constitutional monarch or a pacifist, much less a
puppet or a mere robot of the military" (Awaya, 1991, p. 389). The revisionist
reading of Hirohito's history presented here gives a point of view that offers a
juxtaposing hidden historical meaning, challenging the traditional conservative
view of him. How are those diametrically opposite views, which have been
cultivated for a long time, reflected in contemporary cultural artifacts? This
is a question to be pursued in this paper.
As far as encoding is concerned, there are always dominant or preferred
meanings embedded in media texts, narratives and images. Hall (1980) underscores
the importance of the encoding-decoding relationship of dominant "mappings" in
the sense-making process:
New, problematic or troubling events, which breach our
expectancies and run
counter to our 'common-sense constructs', to our
'taken-for-granted' knowledge of social structures, must be assigned to
their discursive domains before they can be said to 'make sense.' The
most common way of 'mapping' them is to assign the new to some domain
or other of the existing 'maps of problematic social reality'. We say
dominant, not 'determined', because it is always possible to order,
classify, assign and decode an event within more than one 'mapping'.
But we say 'dominant' because there exists a pattern of 'preferred
readings'; and these both have the institutional/political/ideological
order imprinted in them and have themselves become institutionalized.
Examination of media texts or narratives alone may not be a sufficient
basis for characterizing their interaction with audiences (Larsen, 1991, p.
129). Based on the theoretically surmised infinite power of connotations, some
semioticians (e.g., Barthes, Derrida) celebrate the possibility of polysemy D a
"'triumphant plural' of signifiers which would 'float' above the signified,
refusing to be in any way anchored down or constrained" (Silverman, 1983, p.
32). However, it is also true that the audiences' understanding of media
discourse is their sense-making process, thus usually being bound to their own
cultural constraints. Otherwise, there would be "no" possibility that a society
as a whole shares some coherent cultural understanding; postmodern chaos would
be the outcome. In news discourse, a "framing is not necessarily a conscious
process on the part of journalists; it may well be the result of the unconscious
absorption of assumptions about the social world in which the news must be
embedded in order to be intelligible to its intended audience" (Hackett, 1985,
pp. 262-263). More broadly, this principle seems to apply to any "cultural
agents," including TV and movie directors, whose creativity is constrained by
their own assumptions about the social world that they are depicting. Referring
to interrelationships among propositions to form audiences' conceptual scripts,
Dijk (1991) states as follows:
Our shared, social knowledge of such scripts provides the numerous
links" between the concepts and propositions of the text, which
is, so to speak, a semantic iceberg of which only the tip is actually
expressed, whereas the other information is presupposed to be known by
the readers. (p. 112)
In short, the convergence of our social cognitions occurs because of the
same essential interpretive framework called "ideology." "Such an ideology
features the basic norms, values, and other principles which are geared towards
the realization of the interests and goals of the group, as well as towards the
reproduction and legitimation of its power" (Dijk, 1991, p. 118). Thus,
according to White (1992),
. . . ideological criticism examines texts and viewer-text
relations to clarify how the
meanings and pleasures generated by television express specific
social, material, and class interests. This is not to say that a given
program or episode directly expresses the beliefs of a particular
producer, writer, director, or network programmer D though obviously
these may be contributing influences and viewpoints. Nor does it mean
that there is some conspiracy among television executives to control
the ideas expressed through the medium. Rather, ideological analysis
focuses on the systematic meanings and contradictions embodied in
textual practices. This includes the way familiar narrative, visual, or
generic structures orient our understanding of what we see and how they
naturalize the events and stories on television. (p. 173)
The "hidden" history of Hirohito presented in the Literature Review does
not seem to be prevalent among Americans as well as the Japanese. Then, their
sense-making constitutes the normalizing pattern of their common cultural
understanding of the war history, in which Hirohito is embedded.
Fiske (1992) identifies three levels of textuality, which he thinks
cultural studies should investigate in the study of meaning creation:
First, there is the primary text on the television screen, which
is produced by the
culture industry and needs to be seen in its context as part of
that industry's total production. Second, there is a sublevel of texts,
also produced by the culture industry, though sometimes by different
parts of it. These include studio publicity, television criticism and
comment, feature articles about shows and their stars, gossip columns,
fan magazines, and so on. They can provide evidence of the ways in
which the potential meanings of the primary text are activated and
taken into their culture by various audiences or subcultures. On the
third level of textuality lie those texts that the viewers produce
themselves: their talk about television; their letters to papers or
magazines; and their adoption of television-introduced styles of dress,
speech, behavior, or even thought into their lives. (p. 319)
The third level of textuality can be elicited by studying some secondary
texts such as independent criticism and comment that "attempt to 'speak for' the
third level" (Fiske, 1992, p. 319). Therefore, this paper also utilized some
secondary-level texts as a key to actual audience's understanding of
Subsequent analysis in the next section focuses on the "unsaid" as well as
the "said." While primarily analyzing Hirohito's appearances on the screen
chronologically, this paper also examines other important elements (e.g.,
references to Hirohito in others' conversations, contrast between the "pacifist"
and "bellicose" groups in Japanese politics). Ideological analysis allows us to
expand the possibility to find contextual connections D aesthetic, structural,
and semantic. Meanings do not derive from monolithic broadcast media logics, but
from contextual interaction of various elements contained in TV programs with
the audience. Finally, names of historical figures rather than those of actors
who played them are used most of the time to make the analysis more
'Hiroshima' as Historical Narrative
One of the most important facets of "Hiroshima" as a general framework is
its various attempts to engender an atmospheric historical accuracy, although
the word "accuracy" is somehow troublesome as will be shown shortly. In the
"Making of 'Hiroshima'," both Spottiswoode and Kurahara emphasize their efforts
to support the accuracy of "Hiroshima" by using documentary footage, research
materials (e.g., diaries, official documents) and a variety of real-life
eyewitnesses. Also, the re-enactments cast actors who resemble historical
figures pretty well (e.g., Harry Truman, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson,
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, Japanese Prime Minister
Kantaro Suzuki, Prince Fumimaro Konoye [cousin of Hirohito]). As Spottiswoode
underscores the "realness" of this docudrama, their efforts seem to function to
produce an atmosphere of authenticity of their historical narratives. Further,
the merging of documentary footage and purposefully obscured black-and-white
drama film, whenever it is possible, adds to this authenticity by blurring the
distinction between these two separate segments of visuals. Although "Hiroshima"
also uses color films, switching between monochrome and color does not cause any
jarring artificiality because flamboyance of colors is somehow subdued with a
bit of sepia.
As for depiction of Hirohito, Spottiswoode and Kurahara seem to have had
some disagreement. Conlogue (1995) reports on an interview with Spottiswoode:
'I had hoped for a more intimate sense of Emperor Hirohito (played
Umewaka),' says Spottiswoode with regret, 'but they felt he should
be seen only as he has always been seen: stilted, almost robotic.' In
the end, he accepted their work D 'they know what will be believable in
Japan' D insisting only that the scenes be cut shorter. 'Americans
won't sit still for long formal static encounters.'
What Spottiswoode meant by "intimate" is not clear. However, the general
image of Hirohito as a pacifist that "will be believable in Japan" does not seem
to have fundamentally bothered him because he eventually accepted the Japanese
team's account of history. In other words, it can be argued that the Japanese
depiction of Hirohito has some communality with American textbooks' presentation
of history, which substantially constitutes both countries' shared
interpretation of history. If Spottiswoode had thought Americans would not
accept the Japanese version of Hirohito, he would probably have rejected it,
just like he forced the scenes of Hirohito's appearances to be cut shorter. In a
sense, his basic assumption of Americans' view of Hirohito D traditional
description of him as a pacifist D led to his adoption of the Japanese team's
"Hiroshima" starts with brief documentary footage of Nazi Germany, the war
situation in Europe, the Pacific War situation with the Japanese military, and
Japanese atrocities (i.e., a Japanese soldier dragging an old Chinese woman on
the pile of dead bodies), and then moves on to Franklin D. Roosevelt's death and
Truman's inauguration on April 12, 1945. However, it is not until the V-E Day D
May 8, 1945 D that Hirohito first appeared on the screen. Although the focus of
this drama is on U.S. and Japanese political processes leading to the decision
of U.S. nuclear attacks, all the relevant historical context of Hirohito D his
militarism, disregard of oppressed Asians, depression, and willingness to direct
the war through nemawashi D is already lost, since at this point, Hirohito
already felt the possibility of Japan's defeat and learned not to insist on the
"give-a-blow" strategy. The framework of "Hiroshima" per se has been conducive
to the decontextualization of the war and Hirohito.
This first Hirohito appearance centers on his inspection of the damage
caused by U.S. massive bombardment of Tokyo. The drama part depicts Hirohito in
his car together with Prime Minister Suzuki and Lord Privy Seal Marquis Koichi
Kido. It is mixed with documentary footage of his inspection, sites of
devastation, predicaments of people, and as his recollection, his review of
troops. Contrary to "accuracy" contended for by both directors, the documentary
film of his actual inspection was in March 1945 (Kawahara, 1990). The footage,
therefore, can be described as a patchwork collection of chronologically
unrelated mosaics to be juxtaposed against Hirohito's exaggerated dead silence
and emotional arousal D slowly making a fist as if he could no longer stand this
devastation. Melancholic background music also helps to invoke his "pacifist"
"Emotion" of Hirohito is the key word. Actor Naohiko Umewaka, who played as
Hirohito, states in the "Making of 'Hiroshima'" as follows:
I don't believe the emperor is a living god. Nevertheless, he has
to be presented
somehow different from ordinary people. He was taught from his
childhood not to express emotions. This film is probably the first to
show the emotion of Emperor.
For instance, Hirohito's second appearance further amplifies his
sympathetic image. Kido reported a fire on the Palace grounds. When Hirohito
asked about old pines behind his mother's house, Kido predicted that they would
have been gone. In response, Hirohito said, "One can build a palace in a few
months. A great tree requires hundreds of years. But even a great tree doesn't
last forever." With the help of background sound bites of U.S. bombardment, his
words emphasizes his gentle affection for all living things.
Successively, Kido holds an informal meeting with Suzuki. They put all the
blame on the bellicose armies for prolonging the war. Their description of
political difficulties to put an end to the war strongly serves to elicit the
distinction between Hirohito and the military, which reminds us of the usual
"good guy v. bad guy" motif: Hirohito is a good, decent person who wants only
"peace," and only army officials wish to fight until "one hundred million die as
one." Again, as revisionist historians explain, Hirohito simply felt desperation
about the continuation of the war, and had lost his aggressiveness by this time.
Further, Gen. Korechika Anami's (the Japanese army minister) continual
aggressiveness and roar make a contrasting contribution to the pacifist image of
Hirohito. Anami eventually commits the Japanese samurai's suicidal ritual called
hara-kiri. Possibly impressed by this depiction of his character and life, an
American TV columnist of the Asbury Park Press regards Kohji Takahashi, who
played as Anami, as the "most outstanding" actor in "Hiroshima" (Strauss, 1995,
p. D4). However, it must have been easy for the Japanese to notice that the
actor spoke extremely unnatural Japanese with funny intonation, putting too much
emphasis on the explosiveness of his anger. Since English subtitles to Japanese
were used in the United States, this is not so much of a problem. American
audience seems to have adopted an ideologically constructed distinction between
the pacifist and bellicose political groups in Japanese politics all the more
because of the actor's unnaturalness.
On June 6, 1945, the Supreme Council for the Direction of the War was held
by high-ranking military officials and some cabinet members. Contrary to the
expectation of the "peace" group (e.g., Suzuki, Foreign Minister Shigenori
Togo), army officials had their proposal for continuation of the war passed. At
night, worrying about the political clout the armies held to keep fighting
against the Allied Nations, Kido met with Hirohito, and presented his own
counterproposal to achieve a cease-fire through the intermediary D Russia D as
soon as possible (the third scene in which Hirohito appears). By expressing his
100% trust in Kido, Hirohito presents himself as being in the "peace" group.
Similarly, Hirohito's complete trust in Konoye for duties of the envoy to Russia
marks his strong desire for "peace," and in turn creates an image of his
political powerlessness because he tells Konoye to decide what compromises Japan
will make in exchange for Russian mediation (the fourth scene in which Hirohito
In the scene of the atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima (in the second part
of "Hiroshima" after an intermission), documentary footage is used with some
melancholic Catholic Mass. Chronologically, the scenes of Hiroshima before the
dropping were first shown, and then, the screen suddenly stopped. In order to
enhance visual effect of the devastating atomic bomb, other color films of
nuclear tests conducted after the war were mixed with actual footage of the
explosion of the "Little Boy" bomb on Hiroshima. One of the scenes contains palm
trees that were not planted in Hiroshima at that time.
Kurahara states, "We have to look at sufferings on both sides." His comment
signifies that in his mind, sufferings exist only in the context of the
U.S.-Japanese relationship. Throughout "Hiroshima," sufferings of Asians have
been completely ignored. Disregard of the historical context of the Pacific War
helps to give the impression that this war concerned only the United States and
Japan. This framework dismisses Hirohito from Japanese war aggression. One day
after the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Hirohito states, "I think about
explaining this bomb to our son . . . and find I have no wish to do so. I do not
want him to know such a thing exists in this world. And yet it does." Hirohito
is always a gentle pacifist in "Hiroshima."
The last scene in which Hirohito showed up is the Imperial Conference held
on August 14, 1945. Wiping his tears, Hirohito says,
It matters not what happens to me . . . I can no longer watch as
the nation is
reduced to ashes . . . nor further bear to see my people consumed
by the flames of war. As the Emperor Meiji once said . . . I shall
endure the unendurable, so must you.
The trouble might be the phrase "As the Emperor Meiji once said." This is
an accurate presentation, but how many of the audience can grasp its historical
context and Hirohito's real intention as explicated in this study? This
dehistoricization may facilitate a complete misunderstanding of Hirohito and
Japan's war culpability by excessively dramatizing the brutality of U.S. nuclear
attacks. The apology controversy frame in the "Making of 'Hiroshima'" D
interviews with American and Japanese college students regarding who is to blame
D ignores Asia, and thus Japanese emotional bitterness is paradoxically
exaggerated to let more and more Americans suffer moral stigma.
On January 7, 1989, Hirohito died from duodenal cancer, and the turbulent
and controversial Showa era was over. In that year, some of Japanese mainstream
media conducted opinion polls about what the Japanese public thought about
Hirohito's war responsibility (Prime Minister's Office, 1990). Table 1
summarizes their results.
Contrary to the clear indication of his war responsibility elicited through
the Literature Review in this paper, as much as one-third of the Japanese public
still negates Hirohito's accountability for the Pacific War. Further, the
"Neither" and "Don't know" categories occupy approximately one-third of
opinions. It can be said that in its intensity, the "not responsible" group
still constitutes the majority in the public opinion, which in turn creates the
dominant "kuuki" D "air," "atmosphere," or "standard of judgment" in a Japanese
group or society. According to Ito (1993), kuuki "requires each individual,
group, or organization to accept and comply with it, making those who do not
agree with it silent or reluctant to speak up" (p. 263). This is exactly why
there are a great deal of indecisive people. Therefore, "Hiroshima" seems to
have chosen to depict Emperor Hirohito along the conservative line of
interpretation of his role in the Pacific War.
Of course, certain segments of the Japanese society have long maintained
critical attitudes toward the Japanese government and Hirohito regarding their
roles in the Pacific War, and, especially during the period of Hirohito's
illness and death, they exhibited defiant antipathies against him. For instance,
members of the Japan Communist Party did not attend Akihito's (current Japanese
emperor) inaugural meeting (Smith, 1989). Further, some Japanese popular books
and magazines paid their "disrespects" to Hirohito with various defamatory jokes
However, their critical social power has always encountered two immense
obstacles D constrained education through government censorship (Kurita, 1989,
p. 190) and right-wing violence (Awaya, 1991, p. 396). In a society where
freedom of speech, though constitutionally guaranteed, has not yet been
practiced in its full meaning, it is plausible that media tend to behave in the
reactionary way, regardless of our perceived variety of opinions presented to
them. In a sense, diversification of ideologies may well be an illusion in the
Japanese society. Awaya (1991) reports that when Hirohito passed away, "the
newspapers were filled with feature articles on the emperor, and almost all of
them praised Emperor Showa for having brought peace and prosperity to the
country," and "[s]ome individuals and groups voiced opposing views, demanding
that the emperor's accountability for the war be questioned, but they were given
little attention in the media" (p. 388).
Against this background of Japanese "public" interpretation of the war,
"Hiroshima" was produced and aired for American and Japanese audiences. As many
Japanese historians contend, there is no room for legitimating what the Japanese
did during the Fifteen-Year War. Such an attempt is exactly equivalent to
doubting whether the Holocaust really happened. Yet, Japanese-U.S. political
strategy clearly worked to
suppress the pressure to convict Hirohito, thus ignoring real sufferings of
oppressed Asians. Considering the dominant position of Japan and the United
States in the postwar management, the image of Hirohito as a pacifist presented
in "Hiroshima" explicates how the polysemy is suppressed in reading of cultural
artifacts. Discussing the Pacific War strictly in the context of U.S.-Japanese
relationship will reveal nothing; this is only another war between two
imperialistic military powers. Under them, there are Asians who remained
subjugated. War docudramas such as "Hiroshima" construct an illusory account of
history with a dehistoricization of imperialism, functionally serving the
underlying ideology D Hirohito's innocence, which is the U.S.-Japanese mutual
The phrase "No More Hiroshimas" is still being touted, and Hiroshima seems
to have been fixated as a place of peace. Whose peace? Of course, this is the
peace for people who live in Hiroshima (or more broadly Japan) and are Japanese.
Miura (1995) presents a Korean's opinion about Japanese general attitudes toward
The Korean Atomic Bomb Victims' Monument, which was built in 1970
Koreans living in Hiroshima, stands outside the Hiroshima Peace
Memorial Park [italics added]. [The monument] was not permitted to be
built within the park. Koreans in Hiroshima hold a memorial service
before that monument every year, but the mayor of Hiroshima has never
attended the service despite our annual
1989 Media Opinion Polls regarding the Japanese Public's
Perception of Hirohito's War Responsibility
Contact sample (Completion: Rate)
3,000 (2,385: 80%)
3,000 (2,225: 74%)
3,000 (2,129: 71.0%)
Note: Each of these opinion polls interviewed a randomly selected national
people individually with the similarly worded question about Hirohito's war
responsibility. Asterisks indicate that their corresponding categories were not
set up. Further, Asahi reported the "Other" and "No answer" categories
together, and Kyodo did so for the "No Answer" and "Don't know" categories.
Source: From Prime Minister's Office (1990): Asahi Shimbun (pp. 471-472),
Mainichi Shimbun (p. 488), and Kyodo Tsushin (p. 530).
invitations. The city authorities appeal to the world as if only
the Japanese had been
atomic bomb victims. To Koreans, it feels fake to tout "No More
world peace with such an attitude. This is merely hoping for peace
only for the Japanese. Why aren't they willing to pray for world peace
with Koreans? (translation: p. 16)
What the Japanese mean by "No More Hiroshimas" exactly corresponds to their
attempt to overdramatize U.S. nuclear attacks to reduce their own psychological
sense of guilt for the Fifteen-Year War. Without knowing this real picture of
Japan, the rest of the world, together with the Japanese, has been touting "No
More Hiroshimas." Referring to the recent Smithsonian atomic bomb controversy,
Yoneyama (1995) explains this kind of twisted semi-conspiratorial relationship
between Japanese conservatives and U.S. liberals, which is the former's
co-optation of sympathetic U.S. liberals into their ideological domain. The
authoritative view of Hirohito as a "pacifist" exaggerates the image of innocent
Japanese during the Pacific War. As such, "Hiroshima" serves to produce more and
more sympathetic Americans into being capitalized on by Japanese conservatives,
since their past atrocities were completely subdued in tone while the impact of
atomic bombs was excessively dramatized.
American-made Pacific War movies (e.g., "Midway," "Sands of Iwo Jima")
generally ignore sufferings of non-Japanese Asians, with only Japanese and U.S.
historical views implanted in the screen. Unless the Japanese recognize that
there is something else they should be discussing regarding the war period of
over fifty years ago, their cultural artifacts will always contribute to the
dissemination of the dominant ideology that capitalizes on the innocence and
ignorance of younger generations in the world. As this paper's introduction
explained, the key to their critical reflection is the Showa Emperor, Hirohito.
Awaya's (1991) comment should be kept in mind:
Before we Japanese can talk about the tragedy and devastation we
the war, we must face up to the damage and suffering we inflicted
on people in neighboring countries and feel genuinely sorry for and
grieved by what Japan did. This serious reflection on the past will be
very painful for us, but without it how can we expect to be treated as
reliable equals by other countries? (pp. 396-397)
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A Small Note on the Author
I believe critical cultural studies, which aims to make social changes,
need more candid bibliographical explanations of the authors to reveal their
points of view regarding their research topics. In this paper, I take a
revisionist position of the war history. I think that in the U.S.-Japanese
context, the Pacific War is just another war fought between two imperialistic
countries which brutally oppressed non-Japanese Asians. I neither "glorify"
Hiroshima and Nagasaki nor American sacred victory. Therefore, readers should be
informed of my personal beliefs.
My initial opportunity to critically reflect on the Pacific War came when I
had a discussion about Japanese politics with my best friend during my senior
year at Keio University in Tokyo. In the middle of that discussion, the meaning
of suffrage in democratic societies became a topic, and he told me that he had
never voted. While agonizing to locate what he had meant, I assumed that he must
be completely apathetic to the politics in general, and asked him why. He
confessed, for the first time, that he is not a Japanese, but a Korean, and he
has no suffrage in Japan. Yet, I mused D he is a man who was born in Japan,
speaks fluent Japanese, but is not able to speak fluent Korean. Since I was not
sensitive to Korean communities that have been politically and economically
segregated from and discriminated against by the power center of the Japanese
society, and had no Korean friend at that time (at least at my conscious level),
I still could not understand why he did not have suffrage. To dispel my
insensitive confusion, he started explaining about the Japanese military
occupation of Korea and compulsory conscriptions of Koreans into Japan, which
were initiated in 1910; all I knew about this was only fragmented historical
facts (e.g., the year and the then Japanese prime minister). Despite its brutal
treatment of Koreans until the end of the Pacific War, Japan has never
apologized to nor compensated Koreans sufficiently. Further, second and third
generations of Koreans have not been given Japanese nationality and suffrage;
their ancestors' Japanese nationality "disappeared" at the time of the Japanese
surrender. And he just added, "Look. At that time, there was no such country as
His words always remind me of the disturbing ambiguity that the Japanese
society in general has carried over since its militaristic invasions of Asian
countries, and the depressing status quo that the war is not over yet. While we
accumulate knowledge of U.S. nuclear attacks through the Japanese governmental
propagandistic "peace education," we know little about our ancestors' atrocities
and their Pearl Harbor attack. (This was the case especially to me, because I
was born and had been raised in Hiroshima Prefecture.)
Finally, there are two things I would like to say here. First, I am well aware
that Japanese conservatives often take advantage of American liberals'
criticisms of U.S. use of atomic bombs. I think that sufficient care should be
taken when a Japanese proceeds to critique the United States: This might be
incorporated into Japanese conservatives' functional historical narratives
(e.g., egregious causal inferences between Japanese invasions of Asian countries
and their current economic developments). Second, given their unmovable
culpability for the war, the Japanese, I believe, should take certain actions
before criticizing other countries D resume trials of war criminals by the hands
of the Japanese themselves, abolish the Japanese imperial system, dedramatize
Hiroshima and Nagasaki, issue official apologies to Asian countries, and
sufficiently compensate them. I hope this paper will help people recognize core
issues surrounding the Pacific War.