The Rubble Film — More than just German

Among the film genres that are often considered to be very particular to one time and one place, there is the Trümmerfilm (trans. Rubble Film). When analyzed as a purely German genre, the characteristics of the Rubble Film include being filmed in the literal rubble of WWII, themes of rebuilding, themes of guilt, and more. Some authors such as Amanda Randall have brought to light the question of including Austrian Rubble Films into the “canon” and what the absence of these films might say about “national postwar cinema and film studies”, arguing for a reframing of the definition into

“a category fostering comparative, cultural analyses that can yield new insight by gathering German and Austrian postwar film under a common analytical framework in which the two cinemas are treated neither as identical nor strictly opposed to one another”

Leading out from her conclusion, I argue that the definition should be further opened up to include Japanese (and others) films which deal with the destruction brought forth by WWII and the way that different countries dealt with coming to terms with their various roles in the war and the way they decided to move forward with rebuilding (Randall begins to make this argument for other European countries and Latin America, I extend it to be completely global). A friend recently asked me if Holocaust films count as Rubble Films. I think it is an interesting question but do not know enough about films that include the Holocaust as a part of their narrative to form an opinion one way or the other. I tend toward reframing a definition that allows any films that should be considered to be included, so perhaps.

What then would be included as Japanese Rubble Films? For starters, the original Godzilla, which is an allegory for the atomic bomb. This is the unique theme that Japanese Rubble Films have at their disposal, and the one of greatest interest to us the eschatologists — what Freda Freiberg calls the “post-nuclear sublime”. I also subscribe to the idea of allowing the time period of a film’s production to not necessarily disclude it from being a Rubble Film. Therefore I consider AKIRA to be a Japanese Rubble Film. Although it is quite mainstream, I would consider the Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise to be rubble media. Barefoot Gen, which I have written about previously, should also be included. Isao Takahata’s adaptation of “Grave of the Fireflies” takes a look at the non-atomic side of the war, and though it ends with the war rather than exploring the rebuilding time period, I include it because of it’s themes of survival in bombed out Japan. I might consider “In This Corner of the World” as well for similar reasons. Notice that Japan’s history of using animated forms of media does not disclude their films. Of course, that is not a required characteristic. Kurosawa Akira’s films that take place in contemporary settings should also be included as some are filmed in the literal rubble in the same way their German counterparts are.

What exactly is my new definition then? I would consider a film to be a Rubble Film if it 1) deals with the destruction of WWII (this could also include emotional destruction, but physical is the most prevalent) 2) has themes that might include trauma, rebuilding, grief, guilt, survival, or others and 3) was produced to tell a story from that community’s perspective (sometimes despite occupation censors e.g. Godzilla). This definition is purposefully left open. I want to learn about other Rubble Films and see them included in the canon. The question for the future is how we might incorporate films produced from the physical and metaphorical rubble of other wars and atrocities. Are there Rubble Films from places where the United States has needlessly or unhelpfully intervened and murdered people? My guess is yes, but that they are hard to find in a world where “officially speaking” the USA does no wrong, because everything the USA does is “officially speaking” right (strong emphasis on the critique of the USA).

We’ve rebuilt before, and we’ll do it again. Death and rebirth is the cycle of the Apocalypse.