We had an annual movie-watching day at school before the summer break. In my first year, they played a stop-motion animated film called Okori Jizo, meaning angry Jizo. The paradox in the title was that Jizo wouldn’t usually have an angry face because they were the Bodhisattva, the embodiment of compassion.
The marionette of the heroine appeared to be a girl of about my age at the time, seven years old. Her hair was like mine, jet black, and silky straight hair. She lived in the time of World War II, and like me, she had a Jizo in her neighborhood that she visited every day. She’d water it, give offerings, pray, and even had her mother make a protective hood in case of shelling. On one sunny summer morning, the girl visited Jizo as always, cheerful and happy. The inanimate Jizo doll had a graceful smile that almost looked animated as the girl approached. But the moment the girl reached Jizo, we were jolted by a flash of bright light across the screen. Then, with an explosive noise, the frame shook and was obscured by the image of smoke and debris.
At the age of seven, I already had some ideas about the war because my grandfather had told me he went away to fight it when he was very young. And I had also watched footage of war on TV. But I had yet to learn about the atomic bombs. That day, what I had thought was a heart-warming movie of a girl receiving the blessing of Jizo turned out to be an initiation to the collective trauma.
The camera zoomed into the girl, now laid down at the foot of Jizo. The pink of her cheeks was now smeared with soot, and her shiny black hair was burnt to be gray and frizz. Her eyes fluttered as she whimpered, “I’m thirsty, water, water,” and she trembled like a real human girl. Jizo was displaced from its base and tilted over the girl. Its facial expression gradually changed; its crescent moon smile flipped, and brows were pulled together in a frown. Then, drops of water started to flow down from its eyes and dropped on the girl’s face. The girl’s mouth slightly opened and received the liquid in her mouth before her head dropped and body became still. We watched the lifeless body of the doll as the camera zoomed out to capture the landscape of the destroyed miniature city.
I was too afraid to go to bed in the evenings since then for fear of the bombs while asleep. I asked my grandmother to accompany me to my room on the second floor. We’d open the window before I was tucked in to make sure no bomber planes were hovering above our neighborhood. All we could see were the lit-up windows of neighbors’ houses and the edge of mountains blurred by the moonlight. Eventually, I identified the root of fear and asked my grandmother if there was going to be another war. She told me Japan was not allowed to go to war ever again. And with that, I slept.