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Obituary: Keiji Nakazawa, 1939-2012

“Our generation must continue to tell of the horrors of atomic bombs and war.”
Keiji Nakazawa, 1939-2012

Keiji Nakazawa

Keiji Nakazawa

A-bomb survivor Keiji Nakazawa, creator of the Barefoot Gen manga series, passed away on December 19th. He was 73 years old and had been suffering from lung cancer.

Keiji Nakazawa was born in Hiroshima in 1939. He was six years old when the A-bomb was dropped on Hiroshima towards the end of the Second World War. Nakazawa’s father, older sister and younger brother were trapped under the rubble of their destroyed house and perished in the firestorm that engulfed the city. His mother, and an infant sister died several weeks after the bombing. Apart from Keiji Nakazawa himself, the only members of his immediate family who survived the bombing were two brothers who were away from Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped.

After moving to Tokyo in 1961 Nakazawa published his first manga in 1963. From 1966 he began to use the manga genre as an outlet for his feelings and as a way of expressing his hatred of war and as a way to come to terms with what he had experienced.

Kuroi Ame ni Utarete (Struck by Black Rain), published in 1966, tells the story of an A-bomb survivor who asks an American black marketeer, “Who are you to talk about justice when you massacred hundreds of thousands of innocent people in Hiroshima, in Nagasaki, in the firebombing of Tokyo? Was that what you call justice?”, before killing him.

Ore Wa Mita (I Saw It), published in 1972, is Nakazawa’s autobiographical account of what he witnessed in Hiroshima from the immediate aftermath of the bombing up until he left in 1961.

Then, in 1973 he created the first of his famous manga series, Hadashi No Gen (Barefoot Gen), which is more loosely based on Nakazawa’s own experiences than Ore Wa Mita.

English language version, 2004

English language version, 2004

The main character of Hadashi No Gen is a six year old boy who lives in Hiroshima with his family. The story commences in 1945. Gen survives the bombing of Hiroshima but sees his father, brother and sister die in the flames, trapped beneath their destroyed house. The rest of volume 1 follows Gen as he struggles to survive the immediate aftermath of the bombing on 6th August.

The nine volumes that followed over the next twelve years trace Gens fortunes as he grows up struggling to survive as the war draws to a close and in the early years of postwar Japan.

Barefoot Gen has been translated into more than ten langauges and over 6.5 millon copies of the ten volumes of Barefoot Gen have been sold.

Barefoot Gen was also turned into two animated films and a Japanese television drama.

Nakazawa was planning to release a sequel to the Barefoot Gen series, but he abandoned those plans as his health and eye-site deteriorated. Nakazawa was diagnosed with lung cancer in September 2010.

A private funeral was held on 21st December.

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