It ran in several magazines, including Weekly Shōnen Jump, from 1973 to 1985. It was subsequently adapted into three live action film adaptations directed by Tengo Yamada, which were released between 1976 and 1980. Madhouse released two anime films, one in 1983 and one in 1986. In 2007, a live action television drama series adaptation aired in Japan on Fuji TV over two nights, August 10 and 11.
The series begins in 1945 in and around Hiroshima, Japan, where the six-year-old boy Gen lives with his family. After Hiroshima is destroyed by atomic bombing, Gen and other survivors are left to deal with the aftermath.
The story is loosely based on Nakazawa's own experiences as a Hiroshima survivor.
Hadashi no Gen was originally serialized beginning in 1973 in the mass-market manga anthology Weekly Shōnen Jump (Shūkan Shōnen Jampu), which had earlier published Nakazawa's autobiographical Hiroshima story "Ore wa Mita" ("I Saw It"). It was cancelled after a year and a half, and moved to three other less widely distributed magazines: Shimin (Citizen), Bunka Hyōron (Cultural Criticism), and Kyōiku Hyōron (Educational Criticism). It was published in book collections in Japan beginning in 1975. A volunteer organization, Project Gen, formed in 1976 to produce English translations, which were released in four volumes. This made Barefoot Gen one of the first manga released in English.
The first volume was published in Norwegian in 1986 by GEVION norsk forlag A/S. The Norwegian title is "Gen, Gutten fra Hiroshima" (Gen, the Boy from Hiroshima).
The first volume was published in Finnish in 1985 by Jalava, becoming the first Japanese comic to be published in Finland, but publishing was likewise abandoned. The Finnish title is "Hiroshiman poika" (The Son of Hiroshima), and Finnish translation was done by Kaija-Leena Ogihara. In 2006 Jalava republished the first volume (with its original translation) and continued with publication of second volume.
A new English translation has been released with an introduction by Art Spiegelman, who has compared the work to his own work, Maus (which is about the experiences of Spiegelman's father during the Holocaust in Europe). Last Gasp released the final two volumes on February 10, 2010.
Major themes throughout the work are power, hegemony, resistance and loyalty.
Gen's family suffers as all families do in war. They must conduct themselves as proper members of society, as all Japanese are instructed in paying tribute to the Emperor. But because of a belief that their involvement in the war is due to the greed of the rich ruling class, Gen's father rejects the military propaganda and the family comes to be treated as traitors. Gen's family struggles with their bond of loyalty to each other and to a government that is willing to send teenagers on suicide missions in battle. This push and pull relationship is seen many times as Gen is ridiculed in school, mimicking his father's views on Japan's role in the war, and then is subsequently punished by his father for spouting things he learned through rote brainwashing in school.
Many of these themes are put into a much harsher perspective when portrayed alongside themes of the struggle between war and peace.
The story begins on August 4, 1945, with the everyday life of Gen, his younger brother Shinji, their father Daikichi, elder sister Eiko, and pregnant mother Kimie, during the end of World War II.
The beginning of the plot mainly focuses on the Nakaoka family's struggle to afford food ration cards and other items due to food shortages throughout Japan, and points out the fact that Hiroshima has not yet been attacked by an air raid fire bombing like the other Japanese cities of similar size and importance.
Gen and Shinji try and help their family by working tirelessly in the family's wheat field, or attempting to find food to feed their pregnant mother Kimie, who has grown ill from malnutrition.
On the night of August 5th, the family is awakened by an air raid and take refuge in their bomb shelter, though, after some time, it is clear this is yet another false alarm. During the ordeal, Gen's father Daikichi states his fears concerning the constant passing of enemy aircraft with no following attack and his suspicion that Hiroshima is being saved for something special.
The next morning, Gen presents a wooden battleship he has made to Shinji, promising to take him to the river to set it afloat after he returns from school, and leaves his home around 7:40 in the morning. Upon reaching his school, Gen takes notice of a passing B29 aircraft and discusses with a female friend the oddity of its passing over the city with no air raid siren warning accompanying it, as was often common. As this occurs, his father, sister, and brother watch and discuss as an army of ants enters their home in large numbers, while his mother hangs clothes on a clothesline on a second-floor balcony of the house. Suddenly, Gen, his friend, and his family are all blinded by a flash of white light which is then closely followed by the explosion, flinging Gen underneath a ruined wall, throwing his mother off the balcony, and burying his father and siblings under the house.
After the explosion scene ends, a long sequence documenting the immediate horrors of the bomb begins: including the death of his friend, his amazement at the enormous destruction of the city surrounding him, and the sight of deformed and extremely burned people wandering the streets. The sequence also includes the death of all of Gen's family apart from him and his pregnant mother after all of them are trapped in the rubble of their burning home, with Gen powerless to save them. Soon after, Gen and his mother are taken to a safer area by a neighbor, where his mother gives premature birth to a baby girl. Gen leaves to find items and a midwife but is unable to and aids in the birth himself. He then leaves his mother and newborn sister in search of food or help but is unable to find anyone or anything as everyone is injured or dead and everything is destroyed or on fire.
Later that night, Gen is unable to sleep due to the wailing of burned survivors nearby. He and his mother decide to get up and give the people water, as they are clamoring out of thirst, only to discover that they die soon after drinking it and so stop handing the water out.
By August 8, Gen finds that soldiers have entered the city and are distributing rice, but gets there too late, only to find them collecting corpses and burning the dead. He finds a fireman's hat which becomes a signature part of his character. He is later horrified to find a soldier shivering from cold in the intense summer heat, losing his hair, defecating blood, and vomiting blood. He takes the soldier to the Red Cross hospital only to find out that he is being left for dead by the doctors there, as his unknown sickness cannot be cured. Simultaneously, his mother attempts to find milk for the baby as her breasts have run dry, and clamors to find a feeding mother to give her some, only to find a baby attempting to nurse from his mother's corpse. Another woman then attacks her and attempts to kill the baby, but quickly changes her mind, pointing out her baby has died and she has reacted out of despair. In her change of heart, she breastfeeds Kimie's baby.
After several days of wandering around for food, Gen finds a ration storehouse containing rice, only to find that most of it has been seared by the heat of the blast. After digging through and onto the lower bags in the stack, he then finds that some have not been seared and takes them to his mother to eat along with some fresh vegetables. Gen and his mother then decide to name the baby Tomoko, meaning friend, as Gen hopes she will be surrounded by many friends all her life, and the two remark on the growing number of pyres being burned with the dead by soldiers. Gen and his mother then take refuge in a makeshift shack, and on August 16, dig up the skulls of their dead family members from the ruins of the former home. As they do so, a passing family announces the surrender of Japan, to which Gen and his mother respond angrily; his mother emphasizing that it was too late now to surrender after this carnage. Soon after, Gen discovers his hair has started to fall out, and remembering the stricken soldier, panics, only to be reassured by his mother.
In the shack, Gen, his mother, and little sister eat as little of the rationed rice as possible in an attempt to save it, when a small boy, Ryuta, attempts to steal the rice. Gen stops him and brings him back only to be shocked by his physical resemblance to his younger brother Shinji. After speaking with the boy and feeding him, Gen and his mother learn he is orphaned and decide to keep him with them, Gen's mother stating that she would wish for someone to mind after Shinji in a similar situation.
The following day, Gen and Ryuta head out to find food as their sister is suffering from malnutrition due to lack of milk, and are picked up by a man from out of town who takes them to tend for his sick brother, another bomb survivor, for 3 Yen per day. The two accept and find the man they will take care of is crude, rotting, and angry, his family rejecting him and his attitude. Despite his harshness, Gen and Ryuta decide to stay and take care of him regardless, and Gen even spends the night with him, inspiring him to paint once again. Due to their commitment where others hired to care for him gave up or failed, the man's brother pays them 10 Yen, and the boys head out to find milk quickly, in hopes of bringing it back to feed Gen's sister. Unfortunately, they arrive with the milk too late, as Tomoko has already died of malnutrition. Her body is then burned in a pyre, and Gen cries out to his father for guidance.
Soon after, Gen is cheered up by Ryuta who has come to call him older brother, something which makes Gen feel proud and gives him a strong connection to his new friend. Despite hearing that no grass would grow in Hiroshima for seventy years, Gen and Ryuta find that weeds are starting to grow, and Gen is excited to discover his hair is also growing back. In his new found optimism, Gen remembers the promise he made to Shinji of taking him to the river after school, and so, he builds a new wooden boat, placing a candle on to the top. Two weeks after the bomb, Gen takes Ryuta and his mother to the river, where they light the candle and release the boat, together they watch the flame in the sunset, a symbol meant to express that beyond all terrible experiences, lies hope.
Barefoot Gen Series
- Barefoot Gen #1: A Cartoon Story Of Hiroshima (ISBN 0867196025)
- Barefoot Gen #2: The Day After (ISBN 086719619X)
- Barefoot Gen #3: Life After The Bomb (ISBN 0867195940)
- Barefoot Gen #4: Out Of The Ashes (ISBN 0867195959)
- Barefoot Gen #5: The Never-Ending War (17 April 2008, ISBN 0867195967)
- Barefoot Gen #6: Writing the Truth (17 April 2008, ISBN 0867195975)
- Barefoot Gen #7: Bones into Dust (5 Mar 2009, ISBN 0867195983)
- Barefoot Gen #8: Merchants of Death (9 April 2009, ISBN 0867195991)
- Barefoot Gen #9: Breaking Through Borders (10 Feb 2010, ISBN 0867196009)
- Barefoot Gen #10: Never Give Up (10 Feb 2010, ISBN 0867196017)
In 1976, 1977 and 1980, Tengo Yamada directed three live-action version films.
Two animated films were based on the manga, in 1983 and 1986, both directed by Mori Masaki for a production company that Nakazawa founded. Barefoot Gen 2 is set three years after the bomb fell. It focuses on the continuing survival of Gen and orphans in Hiroshima.
Often action, dialogue and the images are almost expressionistic to add to the impact of the film. The falling of the bomb is shown first from the American point of view which is very orderly and impassive. Then, when the bomb explodes, the view is from the Japanese showing powerful images of people being vaporized, buildings exploding and multi-color explosions.
Two days TV drama was produced by Fiji Television in 2007.
Several books have been published about Barefoot Gen.
Operas and musicals
Some operas and musicals of Barefoot Gen have been on show.
- Honkawa Elementary School Peace Museum
- White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (2007)
- Grave of the Fireflies
- Hadashi no Gen (Barefoot Gen) at the Internet Movie Database
- Script error
- Group of Volunteers Translating and Publishing a Comic "Barefoot Gen"