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Record of a Living Being: Shi no hai

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    Vili Maunula

    In one scene, Dr. Harada is shown reading a book about nuclear fallout, titled 死の灰 (Shi no hai) and with a big picture of a mushroom cloud on the cover. In the Eclipse series copy, the title of the book is translated “Ashes of Death”. The Japanese phrase, I think, simply means “radioactive fallout”. No authors seem to be given on the cover shown to us.

    I was curious whether this books really exists, and after a brief search it seems that it indeed does. I cannot be fully certain whether this is the same book, but there is a 1954 title by that name, authored by Mitsuo Taketani, Kenjiro Kimura et al and published by Iwanami Shoten, Tokyo as part of a series called “Iwanami shinsho”. (see here and here)

    I assume that it is a non-fiction work on nuclear fallout. I wonder if the book played some part in the development of the film, or if it was a popular book at the time. If I am correct and the book in the film indeed is the one that I found, it is interesting that it would be so visibly featured in the film. You would call it product placement, if done today.

    If anyone has additional information, feel free to share.



    Very good question. It struck me that showing the title page and virtually holding it up to the audience to see was a very deliberate move, and very unusual in Kurosawa’s films, I can’t think of another example of this. There must be some good reason for it, but I have no answer for it.

    Didn’t Ozu fill his films with product placement? He has lots of close up shots of everything from Coca Cola signs to Sapporo beer.



    I have a book titled 死の灰, to which is translated as “Deadly Ashes” on the cover. A recent move has the book in storage, but the one I have is a early 2000’s reprint of a 1950’s work. It’s actually a picture book, and most likely the people Vili mention are photographers rather then writers.

    My copy of the movie isnt nearby at the moment, so I’m not sure if the book in the movie is one that could have photos are not.

    If so, it may the original to my book, which is:

    An anti-nuclear weapon propaganda book that was spread throughout Japan, and sort of takes stabs at America. The theme of the photos is people burned alive, all taken in Hiroshima, with no mention of Nagasaki. Photos show people severely damaged by burns, up to burning blobs of fat from once children. Towards the end of the book it shows some US government photos of the “Trinity Site” (USA’s post-war nuclear weapon test site) in an attempt to show America has no desire to stop increasing the power of weapons seen at Hiroshima.

    I dont recall it mentioning anything in text, but the arrangement is in way that is to scare the viewer of the book, as the images get more graphic. The photos too in someway suggest that Hiroshima is only the start, and nuclear weapon usage is a strong desire of America’s. And while I might be recalling something wrong,and viewing in a basis way, I seems to suggest via a few photos of American occupied Japan, that America still held some deep grudge on Japan, and a repeat of nuclear weapon usage was only a matter of time.

    Some photos shouldn’t be hard to find online, the images maybe rare for their time, are now commonly published. I know most of non-graphic ones are posted in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima, Japan, at the video pods towards the end of the tour. And in a recent HBO documentary about Hiroshima where to more graphic, non-children ones were shown.

    A Google searches finds a book titled the same but with a different cover, this one includes Pompeii and Nazi Jewish prison camps. I have no idea if the same photos, or how Nazi camps really fit in to the theme, giving the people were burned after dead and in ovens. Pompeii sort of joins in, giving they died near instantly by nature’s version of a nuclear weapon.


    Vili Maunula

    If I may ask, where and why did you get that book? I suppose you didn’t go after it because of the Kurosawa connection?

    I actually saw the new print while trying to find the 1950s publication, but didn’t realise that it could actually be the same book. I think that the book in the film has large photos in it, although I cannot be certain. I’ll have to check that scene again, this time with the pause button and the zoom feature.



    I had not known of a possible Kurosawa connection until your post.

    I believe I pick the book up in a war collectors auction here in Texas, but I have too bought Japanese WWII books from an Kyoto auction via a Texas based auction house.

    I wasn’t directly after this book, it just came about during research into war photos as means of propaganda. To my knowledge, the concept goes back as far as American’s Civil War(1861-1865) were photographers would stage dead people with aims to elaborate a point to support or harm one side. One famous bit, is a series of Civil War photos showing what appears to be various dead Union and Confederate soldiers in some dramatic positions. It turned out they are all of the same person, the photographer merely drag the guy around, posed, and even re-dressed him.

    Well, similar rumors I heard regarding WWII, with some of the more dramatic rumors coming from the Japanese photographers after the bombings. If I’m not mistaken this book name appeared from time to time in these readings. I just happen to find it, and was curious to find what was inside.

    The original book, I don’t think was an official books, and not the only one of it’s kind. They were poorly made outside any publisher, so to be massively circulated in the black markets, and supposedly were somewhat popular and smuggled around. This I believe to create a tension between Japanese and occupying America. I’ve even heard some were secretly funded by Japanese government officials. But war rumors are numerous and so complicated, no one can ever know.

    I dont know a lot on the subject, actually all I write is what I know, and none has ever been verified. It’s one of those very obscure topics, and too often rumored as false rumors, as means of reverse propaganda.

    Most of my war-time books have been in storage for many years, but I’ll give it a look for this weekend.

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