The Vault

Color Footage of Hiroshima, Rebuilding from the Rubble

The Vault is Slate’s history blog. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @slatevault, and find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

This video, taken at the direction of the US Air Force in March 1946 and now held in the National Archives, shows Hiroshima seven months after the bomb, when the city was under U.S. occupation and in the process of rebuilding.

Akira “Harry” Mimura, the cameraman who shot this footage, was born in a town in Hiroshima Prefecture, but moved to the United States as a teenager. By the time of the war, Mimura had worked as a cameraman in Hollywood for half a decade, before returning to Japan and working in the film industry there.

After the war, General MacArthur ordered that the results of the air campaign against Japan be documented. Lieutenant Colonel Daniel McGovern, a combat photographer with the Air Force, enlisted Mimura to travel around the areas affected by the bomb.

The team took Kodachrome and Technicolor records of what they saw. Much of the footage that they filmed was kept classified for years, along with images of the bomb’s immediate aftermath that had been shot by Japanese filmmakers, because the government perceived it as too disturbing for distribution (a story covered in journalist Greg Mitchell’s 2011 book).

But these seventeen silent minutes, once classified along with the rest, aren’t at all grisly. Rather, they show the tasks of daily life in a city reduced to ruin.

There is devastation: people searching through home sites for belongings; relatives claiming boxes holding their family members’ ashes; visits to graveyards and to orphanages. But Mimura also captured telephone repairmen rebuilding infrastructure, reporters putting together stories, women drying seaweed on a line, and workers salvaging sheet metal for scrap.