Movie Review: ‘Twice Bombed’

April 29, 2011 Updated: April 29, 2011

James Cameron holds the hand of Yamaguchi Tsutomu, double survivor of both atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (Courtesy of Takiseeds)
James Cameron holds the hand of Yamaguchi Tsutomu, double survivor of both atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (Courtesy of Takiseeds)
Have you ever had one of those days where it feels like the whole world is against you and you’re not sure if you’ll make it through?

Chin up kiddo, because it’s nothing compared to the life of Yamaguchi Tsutomu, who was hit by two atomic bombs!

Directed by Hidetaka Inazuka, Twice Bombed: The Legacy of Yamaguchi Tsutomu documents the tale of a rare individual who managed to survive both bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug 6, and Aug 9. More than 200,000 people died in the bombings and their aftermath, but Yamaguchi survived.

As the movie reveals, Yamaguchi was a naval engineer on duty in Hiroshima on Aug 6, 1945. While walking through a potato field three miles from ground zero he saw a flash of light, a giant fireball, and was soon afterward knocked down by the blast. He suffered immediate radiation burns on his limbs, lost his hearing, and then experienced the living hell that followed.

Seeking an escape with his five month old son, Yamaguchi decided to board a train back to his home town. But to get to the train at Koi Station, he had to cross a wide river, and the bridge was out.

The river was so full of floating corpses that Yamaguchi was forced to use them as a human raft. He finally arrived at the train, rode it all the way to his home town of Nagasaki, and was then hit by the second atomic bomb.

This was an unprecedented situation in the history of the world. No one had ever been hit by two atomic bombs. Yamaguchi told his boss at the time, “I thought the mushroom cloud had followed me.”

After the blasts, Yamaguchi had his gallbladder removed, endured yearly hair loss in the summers, and would occasionally lose his strength. But the suffering amidst the silence that followed was perhaps even worse.

The survivors had to keep a secret. There was a stigma in Japan toward victims of the nuclear bombs as being radioactive. They were avoided as potential spouses because of their early deaths and the fear that their children would be born with birth defects. They were not able to share their painful stories with anyone outside their family. For the most part there was no solace, no acceptance, and no relief.

Yamaguchi kept his secret for 60 years. As his friends gradually passed away like the falling leaves of autumn, Yamaguchi wondered, “Why am I allowed to live?” His son passed away at the age of 60 due to cancer, and this was a wakeup call. In his late 80s Yamaguchi made a decision. He understood that sharing this important message “was my destiny,” as he expressed in the film. He felt it was his duty.

Filmed in Japanese with English subtitles, Twice Bombed reveals Mr. Yamaguchi's remaining years as an anti-nuclear activist. During the documentary he returns to Hiroshima to tearfully recall the experience, prays at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Shrine, and delivers speeches throughout Japan to relay his message of nuclear disarmament and the value of human life.

Heartfelt and genuine, Yamaguchi chokes back tears and agony as he recalls the pain and suffering of the dual bombings. “I only tell people what I saw. This is not fiction.” The entire audience was crying and sniffling at the emotional and altruistic message of perseverance, hope, and goodwill.