Soon after its release in 1970, Sensou wo Shiranai Kodomotachi (translated to Children Who Do Not Know the War) topped the Japanese music chart. By that time, Japan had willed itself from the aftermath of the postwar era, even successfully hosting the Olympics in 1964. In the traveling exhibition Metamorphosis of Japan After the War: 1945-1964, currently making its only US stop at West Los Angeles College, a monochromatic documentary archive by 11 Japanese photographers survey the incredible, candid lives of ordinary citizens during the country’s dramatic recovery. The showcase includes original prints by Ihee Kimura, Ken Domon, Tadahiko Hayashi, Yasuhiro Ishimoto, Hiroshi Hamaya, Ikko Narahara, Shomei Tomatsu, Kikuji Kawada, Shigeichi Nagano, Takeyoshi Tanuma, and Eikoh Hosoe.
Loosely chronicled and organized from the day of Japan’s surrender to the allied forces on August 15, 1945, through the postwar reconstruction period of the 50’s and 60’s, the exhibition provides a rare opportunity to witness an often untold history. A silently powerful image of the sun hovering over all consuming sky, captured by Hamaya, welcomes visitors. It is a subtle yet concrete reminder that the morning dawned and the day continued, even after the atom bombs — even when the country was brought to what remained of its knees. In the ruins and out of ashes, people of Japan had living to do; and live they did.
Lenses in the hands of these Japanese photographers focused not on the terror and horror left by the war, but rather on the sheer vitality of the people who survived to keep on keeping on. When the entire country needed to be rebuilt from the flattening devastation, time for pause and contemplation was a luxury no one could afford. The walls and temporary columns of the gallery are filled with a wide range of emotions expressed by children, mothers, soldiers and young women, businessmen, and elders going about their day, reclaiming the meaning of being alive. Most of them seem unaware of the camera pointed at them — the fact that one day, they will become part of the narrative on human tenacity.
Metamorphosis of Japan After the War: 1945-1964 is organized by The Japan Foundation and co-presented by West Los Angeles College and Kio Griffith (ARTRA / TYPE). The exhibition is on view at West Los Angeles College Art Gallery through July 11, 2015. It’s a BETTER-THAN-ANIME.
All images courtesy of the organizer and presenters.