"Watch out! Recollection": the spectre of impossibility in Kaneto Shindo's Children of the Atom Bomb

It was not until the end of the occupation that Japanese filmmakers could at last begin to explore the effects of the atom bomb on Japan. Yet even here the 'spectre of impossibility' arose: given the immensity of the event, how could the Japanese cinema give body to the spectre in film? Surely any attempt would be inadequate? One of the very first films to attempt to overcome this problem was Kaneto Shindo’s Children of the Atom Bomb (1952). Crucial in Shindo’s cinematic strategy is the flashback. For Deleuze, a flashback is a ‘closed circuit’ that negotiates a trajectory ‘from the present to the past, then… back to the present’, ‘it is generally indicated by a dissolve link… it is like a sign with the words “watch out! recollection”’.

Flashbacks, in this way, mark out the ‘destiny’ of a human body. They are actualisations of that body’s virtual memory allowing a character to become englobed in the sensory-motor field and operate successfully within the filmwork. Shindo produces such flashbacks. However, both Deleuze and Shindo allow for the possibility of other kinds of flashback images. For Shindo the flashback can be radicalised to produce images that cannot be reconciled to the on-screen body. In this way, it is not just Shindo’s characters that recollect the a-bomb in order to act within the film, but also the spectator who encounters such horror as an event. This video paper explores Shindo’s strategy through the Deleuzian conceptual figurations of ‘forking paths’ and ‘sheets of the past’.

This paper was a first attempt to bring together Deleuze, Japanese cinema and the atom bomb, work completed in my book Deleuze, Japanese Cinema, and the Atom Bomb: The Spectre of Impossibility (Bloomsbury, 2014). The book also revisits Shindo's film, this time, however, from the perspective of affects and affection-images.

Author Name: 
Deamer, David