Technically, Akiko Takakura and the rest of Hiroshima were warned to leave the city, but they would not have been allowed to act on the leaflets dropped by American planes, even if they believed them. Nevertheless, somehow Takakura survived to this day, despite her close proximity to the blast. Filmmakers Andre Hörmann & Anna Samo give her an opportunity to tell her story in the animated short documentary, Obon (trailer here), which screens as part of the Animation Spotlight shorts program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, in Park City.
Takakura is a survivor in the strictest sense, but it is clear from the nightmare sequence that opens the film just how profoundly she has been affected by the Hiroshima bombing. Yet, her memories of that day, particularly the tragic death of her friend and co-worker Satomi Usami (who is obviously joyously full of life seconds before “Little Boy” was dropped) are even more horrifying. However, Obon is also beautifully life-affirming when it depicts the sudden outpouring of affection from her formerly stern father during the immediate aftermath of the bombing.
Obon is an absolutely beautiful film, both in terms of its visuals and the emotions it stirs up. Inspired by traditional Japanese woodcuts, Samo’s animation perfectly matches the 92-year-old Takakura’s oral history. In fact, Obon would be a fitting short to precede a screening of Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies, but despite its elegiac tone, Hörmann & Samo’s film is not a downer—quite the contrary.
This film is welcome proof that even nonfiction documentaries can be a work of art. Both documentarians and animators should watch Obon, because it will encourage them to raise their games. Very highly recommended, Obon screens again tonight (1/27), tomorrow (1/28), and Thursday (1/31) in Park City, as part of the Animation Spotlight short film block at this year’s Sundance.