The thing is, I think this film is only tangentially about the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. I think it's really about families. About the way relatives can know each other and fail to know each other, about what can keep them ignorant of each other's deepest feelings, and what can allow them to understand one another.
Perhaps my favorite scene: The film essentially concerns four teenagers spending summer vacation with their grandmother in the countryside outside Nagasaki. The grandmother has been telling her grandchildren stories about her long-dead brothers and sisters. One of these stories concerned a brother who ran away with his boss's wife. They ended up living in a shack in the woods, because as they were fleeing through the woods they came across two cryptomerias growing close together like lovers, and both had been burned by a lightning strike. The woman says the trees look like they committed a lovers' double suicide.
It sounds like a fairy tale. It supposedly happened only about fifty or so years before the film takes place, but as far as grandkids are concerned it could have been centuries ago. So when the grandmother says the trees are still there, the kids can't believe it. The oldest two decide to go check it out.
The oldest two are cousins, a boy and a girl. We watch them tramp through the forest primeval, dubious until they actually find the trees. When they do, they're too spooked by the sight to do more than just sit on the ground and gaze at them from afar.
The cinematography and editing here is wonderful. This could easily have been overdone, with, you know, epiphany music and everything. Instead we get silence, forest sounds, and kids whispering.
We know it's a mysterious scene because of the way they react. We don't get close enough to the burned-out trees in question to really appreciate the sight, but we see how it affects the teenagers. They're struck silent. And we watch them watching. It's one of those impeccable Kurosawa compositions. We're close to the kids, looking at them from the side. He's sitting in the foreground, she's crouching in the background. The rest of the screen is mostly dark, with her orange t-shirt the only bright color in the shot. The curves of their backs perfectly echo each other. And Kurosawa holds this shot for a full forty seconds.
What makes the scene, though, is how it ends. We've got this perfectly poised moment, with both teenagers soaking in the romance and mystery, the awe, and we're thinking about the unexpected connections they're making with long-dead relatives, the persistence of legend in real life, whatever. Meanwhile, the boy is a teenager. So what does he do?
He turns to his cousin and tries to kiss her. She screams, of course - gross! She jumps up and runs away (that breaks the shot), and he runs after her desperately trying to explain that he just got carried away by the atmosphere. But by the time they get back to the farmhouse they're both laughing, and all is forgotten.
It's delicately handled, and manages to be poetic, ethereal, earthy, and funny all at the same time. This kind of thing is why I'm in awe of Kurosawa.