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Film Review: Hibakusha At The End of World

Film Review: Hibakusha At The End of World

By Sonia Nettnin

Hitomi Kamanaka’s "Hibakusha At The End Of The World" premiered in the U.S. at the University of Chicago’s Albert Pick Hall for International Studies on Friday night.

August 6th marked the 59th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

According to members of the Hyde Park Committee for Peace and Justice, 110,000 people died from the bombing instantly and 135,000 people suffered injuries. By 1950, 200,000 people died of causes related to the bombing.

Prior to the film’s screening, people gathered at Henry Moore’s sculpture, Nuclear Energy. In 1942, the University of Chicago was the site of the first, nuclear chain reactor.

In the film, Hibakusha means all victims of radiation. Kamanaka explores the lives of people affected by depleted uranium, exposure to radiation, and nuclear bombing in Iraq, Japan and the U.S. The film is in Japanese, Arabic and English, with English subtitles.

In November 1998, Kamanaka traveled to Baghdad where she meets Rasha Abbas, 14 years-old, who suffers from leukemia. She wears an IV in her foot and she draws a picture of a house, a garden and sunset.

U.N. and U.S. economic sanctions against Iraq cause an absence of chemotherapy drugs for Rasha thousands of Iraqi children. Rasha suffers an extensive infection, as she sweats in her maroon nightgown.

A doctor tells the camera that four times as many Iraqi children suffer from leukemia since the Gulf War. Medical treatment is difficult when the chemotherapy drugs needed are absent. Iraqi children drink dirty water, and then suffer from diarrhea. Water cannot be purified because the chemicals and tools needed are considered weapons of mass destruction. Bread costs 100 times more than it did prior to the Gulf War.

When Kamanaka (Kama) visits Rasha again, she finds this letter: “Dear Kama, Don’t forget me.”

Rasha represents thousands of Iraqi children who suffered and died from depleted uranium, contaminated water and malnourishment.

In Iraq’s sand fields are abandoned U.S tanks and machinery. Kamanaka narrates that the U.S. used three tons of depleted uranium in the 1991 Gulf War. Kamanaka holds a scientific instrument that measures micro size radioactive particles. The device measures past the number three, which is in the red.

“It was a bright red thing. A bright awful red…it grew and grew…there was a huge, white cloud as big as the sun,” Dr. Hida Shuntaro explains in his interview. He is a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing and he talks about what he experienced afterward.

“The skin was raw and slippery,” he said. “I thought it was wearing rags but it was skin.”

Dr. Shuntaro sees patients at the Hibakusha outpatient clinic.

Kamanaka returns to Iraq and she meets the people of Al-Alwa village. The destruction of their water purification plant in the first Gulf War causes contaminated water. Mustapha, eleven years-old, suffers from leukemia. He has eight brothers and sisters. His father is a farmer and their primary sustenance is okra.

Mustapha’s father takes him to Ibun-Gazwan Maternity Hospital in Basra for treatment, which is 100 km away from home. Mustapha wears an orange band around his wrist. They insert an IV into his lower back, near his spine. They do not have the drugs (for example Vincristine) to treat the leukemia. Several gaunt children lie in beds around Mustapha.

Since Iraqi doctors do not have the means to treat illnesses, they carry immense burdens. They witness their patients’ pain and suffering. Moreover, they deal with their patients emotions until they die. Kammanaka captures the levels of these tragic experiences from every person’s point of view.

“I feel as if I am examining a dead person,” Dr. Juwaad Al-Ali says. “One day I will have a heart attack…I have chest pains when I see people dying.”

In Basra, Dr. Al-Ali treats a man with cancer of the neck. The tumor’s shape and size is like a carrot. He shows a chart that reveals cancer increased 18 times since the Gulf War. Acute myeloid (marrow) cancer is prevalent and is closely related to radiation.

A patient cries to Dr. Al-Ali. She has eleven children.

Kamanaka travels to Hanford, Washington. The Hanford Nuclear Site was one of the largest plutonium facilities. Some people who lived in and around the Mesa Downwinders’ area sued the U.S. government for damage caused by radiation. One of the residents, Tom Bailie, showed U.S. government declassified documents that explained the vegetation contamination.

In 2003, their claims for compensation were thrown out of court.

Some of the residents suffer from cancer, thyroid problems and birth defects. They narrate the life stories of the 28 families who lived within the one square mile. One of the girls was born without eyes. Several women have had hysterectomies and miscarriages. One woman gave birth to a child with deformities. She killed the child and then she killed herself. Some peoples’ teeth fell out or they were born without an appendage. The film interviews some of these people as they tell their life experiences.

A compliance manager for the Department of Ecology cleans up the site. He says it is too polluted to clean up. His concern is that the contamination will seep into the Columbia River. It is no longer a question - just a matter of time.

I liked this film because it is informative and Kamanaka’s approach to this challenging subject matter is incredible. Her presentation of the material from the scientific viewpoint, as well as the humanitarian, is balanced and credible. The film’s depth is understandable for the average viewer. She captured all of the people, especially the children, with compassion and clarity. This film instills awareness and involvement for the future.

The cameraperson is Makiko Iwata and the video engineer is Koichi Kawasaki. More information about the film can be found at


Sonia Nettnin is a freelance writer. Her articles and reviews demonstrate civic journalism, with a focus on international social, economic, humanitarian, gender, and political issues. Media coverage of conflicts from these perspectives develops awareness in public opinion.

Nettnin received her bachelor's degree in English literature and writing. She did master's work in journalism. Moreover, Nettnin approaches her writing from a working woman's perspective, since working began for her at an early age.

She is a poet, a violinist and she studied professional dance. As a writer, the arts are an integral part of her sensibility. Her work has been published in the Palestine Chronicle, Scoop Media and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She lives in Chicago.

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