January 22, 2010 / 2:20 PM / 9 years ago

Book tackles atom bomb horror, author eyes 3D film

LONDON (Reuters) - A new book follows a handful of Japanese who were lucky — or unlucky — enough to survive both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings, and their shocking story could make it to the big screen in 3-D, its author said. Charles Pellegrino’s “The Last Train From Hiroshima: The Survivors Look Back,” is the result of lengthy research, including extensive interviews with the survivors and those who dropped the weapons toward the end of World War Two.

He and “Avatar” director James Cameron met one such person, Tsutomu Yamaguchi, not long before he died earlier this month aged 93, and Pellegrino believes it is their duty to commit his story to film.

“Mr. Yamaguchi called us to him, literally to hold hands with him and gave us each this assignment (of making the movie),” Pellegrino said in a telephone interview.

“We have to figure out how to go forward with this project. With Mr. Yamaguchi dead it’s our destiny to.”

The 56-year-old author envisages a movie which combines full-color, 2-D footage of interviews with survivors with 3-D, sepia-toned reconstructions of the events they describe.

“We must communicate this to the world and stop this ever happening a third time,” he said, adding that he was concerned that people in the United States had developed “amnesia” about the threat of nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War.

“People seem surprised to hear that two cities were hit by atomic bombs. The amnesia has got to such a point that I hear people around me in the U.S., even in my own family, using phrases like “nuke them.”


Pellegrino estimates about 300 people reached Nagasaki by train from Hiroshima after the first bomb fell on August 6, 1945.

Of those, some 90 percent were killed in the second attack, leaving around 30 who survived both.

Those people who did live through the initial blasts were often sheltered in natural “shock cocoons” that shielded them, although many died later of their injuries, from radiation or cancer and other long-term effects.

The book, as the New York Times review pointed out, is “not for the weak-stomached.”

Early on, witnesses saw what Pellegrino calls “a tap dance in Dante’s Hell” — a man ran past them flapping his arms, making no noise but the clicking on the road of his two tibia “chipping and fracturing with each step against the pavement.”

Eyeless and faceless people, with only red holes discernable in their blackened heads indicating mouths, murmured strangely “like locusts on a midsummer night. One man, staggering on charred stumps of legs, was carrying a dead baby upside down.”

The smell of burning flesh was likened to that of grilled squid with “a few pieces of sweet pork thrown alongside.”

Aside from the physical impact, which killed tens of thousands of people immediately or more slowly, Pellegrino also deals with the psychological trauma of the survivors, who suffered both grief and guilt at being left behind.

There is even humor in the horror, as when a physician’s poor eyesight was corrected, he assumed due to some kind of pressure wave changing the shape of his eyeballs.

“Of course, I would not recommend nuclear detonations as a means of corrective eye surgery,” he said years later.

Pellegrino said that, for all the tragedy in the book, he took from the survivors’ stories a message of peace and hope.

Sadako Sasaki, who survived Hiroshima aged two, was struck down by leukemia 10 years later. Her courage through the illness, during which she folded a thousand paper cranes as a kind of therapy, is held up as a shining example.

It was when he saw similar paper cranes displayed in the family room at “Ground Zero” in New York in 2001 that Pellegrino decided to embark on the book.

It is published in the United States this week by Henry Holt.

Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato

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