At one point in “Apocalypse ’45”, the camera monitors Tokyo from a US military bomber as the aircraft ejects a group of cylinders. For many beats, the bombs disappear into the air. Then we see the explosion: small bursts of orange below.
The staggering images appear in “Apocalypse ’45”, a transfixing documentary that depicts the final months of World War II in rare detail. movie (Discovery +. Streaming on) Combines vivid archival footage of war journalists with accounts of an array of veterans. Its project is to plunge us into the horrors of war, and explain how its witnesses deal with the mental toll of war.
Images taken from digitally restored film reels that have been sitting in the National Archives for decades are disturbingly graphic. A Japanese woman jumped off a cliff in the Mariana Islands to avoid being held hostage. On Iwo Jima, the soldiers shot flames into the caves. Aircraft operated by Kamikaze take off in ships near Okinawa. Director Eric Nelson adds realistic wartime sound effects to the muted footage, achieving an unstable veracity.
But the giants, whose candid testimony is interwoven in the voice-over, are the smartest additions to the film. In particular, Nelson refuses to make a distinction between men, and instead patchwork their deep, breathless sounds into sound wallpaper. Without faces or names, their comments cannot be personally condemned or celebrated. Instead, they mix collectively, showing how people seek myths – about the inevitability of war, Japanese conformity, or American power – where there may be none.
When it comes to representing non-American experiences, the documentary is less equipped. Nelson only calls the survivor of Hiroshima, a Japanese interviewer. His voice opens the documentary, and later reappears to describe the atomic bomb attack. The survivor’s point of view is important, but offered alone proves its inclusion. “Apocalypse ’45” knows that war is hell for everyone. But it is difficult to avoid the sense that, in this film’s approach to history, America tops.
Not rated. Running Time: 1 hour 43 minutes. Look at Discovery +.