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FILM OFFERS HIROSHIMA’S VIEW OF BOMBING

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A man's ears, melted into wrinkled clumps of flesh. Two children, frail and wispy-haired with radiation sickness. A baby, covered in horrifying burns, writhing in pain.

Those searing images are in long-lost film footage of Hiroshima that was shot a few weeks after a U.S. atomic bomb devastated the city on Aug. 6, 1945. The movie is now available to the public for the first time at the city's Peace Museum.The two-hour black-and-white film - taken by an Education Ministry mission in September and October of 1945 - is the latest chapter in the city's half-century quest to recover bits and pieces of that pivotal day in history.

"It is Hiroshima's mission to let the facts about the bombing be known through education and research," said Shinji Ohara, associate chief of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation. "I think the film can contribute to that."

The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima 51 years ago Tuesday killed an estimated 140,000 people. A second bomb dropped three days later on Nagasaki killed about 70,000 people.

Victims' efforts to document the devastation were squelched during the U.S. postwar occupation, when photographic prints and negatives of the destroyed city were banned for fear of inspiring rebellion. Official reports focused on material damage, playing down the bomb's human toll.

The first permitted representations of the attack were drawings and paintings, and photographs were not published in Japan until 1952.

Like similar material, the Education Ministry film was declared a U.S. military secret in 1946. But before it was turned over to authorities, a Japanese camera crew member managed to copy part of the footage. The copy was eventually stored in a film archive.

It lay forgotten, buried under other films at the Nippon Eiga Shinsha Ltd. studio until an employee stumbled on it while organizing the archives in 1993.

Last year, it was moved to the library at the Hiroshima Peace Museum, and since June it has been available for viewing upon request. The museum has put together a 1,000-page guide to go along with the footage.

Ohara said the film is kept in the library so viewers can see it without having to pay the museum entrance fee. There are no plans to make it part of the permanent museum exhibit.

Parts of the footage were included in an American film released in the 1960s. And while the film is similar to existing images that have been used for years in TV news stories and documentaries, its length and breadth - and silence - give the viewer a vivid sense of the desolation and suffering after the bombing.

The scenes are grotesque in their attention to detail: One scorched victim removes a cap to show how it shielded his forehead from the blast's heat. A doctor pries open the melted-out eye of a woman to apply a solution. Haggard survivor after survivor appears before the camera's probing eye.

Not all of the film is dramatic. More than half is taken up by ministry officials examining ruins and detailing the awesome extent of the damage at different distances from the epicenter of the blast.

Museum officials say the film contributes to history by providing details on conditions in various parts of the city and giving powerful images of the devastation wrought in several neighborhoods.