(1959) Hiroshima Mon Amour: Opening Sequence Analysis

Hiroshima Mon Amour // Hiroshima, My Love (1959)

You hear the soft sounds of a piano gently growing louder with a melodic consistency. The movement of hands and limbs interplay in a shared space. Glistening dust act as a coat for the moving lifeforms. Sounds become alerting and bodies now appear more lively than ever.

An invisible man gently asserts, “You saw nothing in Hiroshima. Nothing.”

The unique opening sequence of Hiroshima Mon Amour relies heavily on the narrative, sound design, and cinematography. This sequence functions as a gateway to the overarching narrative. Doing so by foreshadowing and providing a glimpse of the exposition.

The sound is crucial to set the tone of the sequence. The use of music, voice-overs, and silence really impact the feel and flow of the film. The cinematography is highly constructed by camera movement and each shot provides the proper visual to coexist with the narrative and sound design.

The sequence’s opening shot begins as an additive dissolve into a close-up shot. The dissolve gives the viewer an opportunity to be eased into the film, just as the music intends to do for sound design.

The pleasant introduction becomes puzzling as the bodies visually intertwine, caressing each other in a confusingly-odd manner. The arrangement of limbs create curiosity and wonderment for what’s occurring.

The frame is primarily full of the movement of the limbs. The rest of the frame is a dead space of black, serving to keep the viewer’s eyes attentive to the bodies.  

Just as you begin to realize what the bodies are doing, debris begins to fall from the top of the frame. The bodies, now clearly noticeable, are covered in a glistening material that’s likely to be silt. This action directs the viewer to question the material’s purpose.

Within the first minute of the film, questions have already entered the mind of the viewer. This effect is integral to immersing the viewer into the narrative.

A transition occurs and now the bodies can be seen glistening with sweat, rather than the silt-like substance of previous. This signifies that change has occurred – time being one. Either the bodies have been cleansed of the silt or the bodies are different from the previous set. If the same, what cleansed them? If different, what’s the purpose of the replacement?   

The opening sequence doesn’t offer the viewer enough information to determine the reasoning behind the cleansing catalyst. Enough information is provided though, to allow for the viewer to understand the reasoning for bodily replacement.

The point of change can signify that love can occur during and after a war. Clinging to the last breath as death approaches or as embracing becomes no more – foreshadowing the relationships yet to be established in the film.

“You saw nothing in Hiroshima. Nothing,” said a man yet to be identified.

This dialogue creates a setting for the film, Hiroshima, Japan, the infamous location of the atomic bombing.

“I saw everything… I saw the hospital – I’m sure of it,” said an unidentified woman in response.

When these words are spoken, the shot transitions to an undamaged hospital. Speaking of Hiroshima in this fashion means the film’s timeline is set after World War II. The new dialogue creates insight that the bodies are of a couple — man and woman. The couple’s opinions on Hiroshima differ while conversing during the scene change.

The new scene begins as a POV (point-of-view) shot of someone walking down a hallway, containing nurses visibly seen in doorways throughout. The POV shot cuts to a medium shot of a nurse near an open room that has two patients lying down in the background. The shot then cuts to another two patients. The patients are older in age, which I believe increases the significance of the words the couple is saying.

The woman speaks of seeing Hiroshima and the man speaks of her not seeing Hiroshima. The patients are old enough to have witnessed Hiroshima for what it was and now truly is – the important cultural history of pain, people, structure, and life.

Cutting to a new scene as dialogue begins, you now see a large modern architectural structure.

The woman says, “Four times at the museum.”

The man replies, “What museum in Hiroshima?”

You now see the museum’s visual portrayal as numerous shots change.

I believe the man’s response can be interpreted two ways. The words can simply be taken as a referral to what Hiroshima museum she is speaking of. Another interpretation is based on there not being a standing museum during the bombing – the bombing would have destroyed any that existed at the time.

You now see signage on a wall depicting a large mushroom cloud.

“Four times at the museum in Hiroshima,” says the woman.

A continuation of new shots shows different features of the museum that bring significance to the Hiroshima bombing. As these shots are being shown, the woman speaks of the scorched and twisting of metal, the bouquet of bottle caps, and other objects on display. She begins experiencing the infamous bombing by her interpretation of the displays. Even though she didn’t experience the bombing first hand, she believes she knows how it felt by viewing the aftermath in the museum.

Her personal narrative for rest of the film is based on this first-hand experience that she supposedly understands. She speaks of Hiroshima as if she knows its pain when clearly she has no history to share.

There are Japanese families and individuals visiting the museum and yet they are portrayed as not fully understanding the aftermath of the bombing. The people are touring, some with their children, while attempting to learn or to be reminded of the brutality and power an atom bomb possess. By speaking French, the woman, of the couple, is highlighted as a foreigner at the museum.

The sequence’s use of sound transforms the viewer’s state of mind. In the opening shot, the smooth sounds of a piano are heard as the couple is together in intimacy. This music serves as a transition, prevalent for when the couple is together in intimacy. Letting the viewer know what’s going on each time you hear the intimate music.

While the woman walks down the hallway in the hospital, the soundscape is pleasant and satisfactory. The music transitions to a solemn-like sadness when the man speaks of Hiroshima.

The musical transition adds to showcasing their differing opinions. The museum scene has intense music when the first depiction of the bombing begins. The next few shots revisit the solemn and sad sounds as you see more of the aftermath.

The remaining museum shots are full of a fast pace, almost happy, kind of music that doesn’t fit the visuals of the scene. The visuals on display are sad and destructive yet the music is happy.

This is due to the emotions of the woman speaking and not the images in the scene itself. The woman feels satisfactory for how well she knows Hiroshima’s history and understands the associated pain.

More grotesque and alarming images and objects appear in the last few museum shots. You hear the music change, becoming more anxious. The shots continue changing as the viewer sees an increasing amount of aftermath showcased in the museum.

The music lingers as do the remaining shots, making you want something else to happen – a much-needed change. The music stops, creating a silence as the scene cuts outside. This signifies a big change in scene and a new opportunity for dialogue.

The scene cuts back to the couple caressing each other while the intimate music plays. Even though the couple has opposing views on the Hiroshima bombing experience, it’s important they still manage to caress each other; showing their deep affection – regardless of opinion.

This connection will be reinforced during the remainder of the film, especially after the viewer is actually introduced to the characters next scenes.

Right from the beginning, the viewer is provided with a mellow yet intriguing dialogue that functions as a gateway and a perfect glimpse to the larger narrative and exposition.

The cinematography and sound design were crucial for the provision of a healthy introductory tone and coexistence with the narrative. 

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