Photo/IllutrationAnime artist Kazuo Oga’s painting of the No. 5 Fukuryu Maru in a forest is on display at the Daigo Fukuryu Maru Exhibition Hall in Tokyo (Provided by the Daigo Fukuryu Maru Exhibition Hall)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

It is an odd painting featuring a fishing boat that was exposed to radioactive fallout from a U.S. hydrogen bomb test sitting peacefully in a serene forest.

The artist, Kazuo Oga, a Studio Ghibli art director, decided on the juxtaposition to make his painting of the No. 5 Fukuryu Maru more intriguing.

“I would like viewers to think about why the boat, which belongs in the sea, is on the ground and also why nuclear weapons exist in the world,” said Oga, 65. “I am hoping the painting acts as a catalyst to provoke viewers into pondering the issue of nuclear weapons.”

It was one of five paintings the artist presented to a rotating exhibit on paintings of the tragic vessel held at the Tokyo metropolitan government’s Daigo Fukuryu Maru Exhibition Hall in the capital.

They were created at the request of hall officials to mark last year's 70th anniversary of the construction of the boat. The exhibition, which opened in November, will continue through March 25.

The No. 5 Fukuryu Maru was contaminated when “white ash,” which was coral reef destroyed by a nuclear test at Bikini Atoll, rained down on it in March 1954. The fallout came from one of dozens of hydrogen bomb tests conducted by the United States around the Marshall Islands. The blast in question was 1,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb.

The wooden boat was catching tuna about 160 kilometers from the nuclear test site, and all 23 crew members were exposed to radiation. Aikichi Kuboyama, a radio operator on the boat, died half a year later. The incident added fuel to Japan’s growing anti-nuclear movement, which was mobilized by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

The boat, 30 meters long and 15 meters in height, is on display inside the triangle-shaped building of the hall dedicated to it in the reclaimed Yumenoshima district.

Oga, a native of Akita Prefecture, has been involved in anime art production since he was 20.

He served as art director of Studio Ghibli’s “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Only Yesterday” and “Princess Mononoke.”

Oga has a long history of anti-nuclear activism and has worked in this field with actress Sayuri Yoshinaga.

Oga has produced the art for books featuring collections of poems Yoshinaga has recited on the hellish nature of nuclear blasts at a number of gatherings over the decades.

The actress has described it as a lifetime’s work--making public appeals for a nuclear weapon-free world.

But none of his illustrations, of course, were first-hand portrayals of the cruelty of the atomic bombs and war.

His father fought, but war has not played a front-line role in Oga's life.

“Drawing things I did not experience will be fake no matter how hard I try,” he said, referring to his initial hesitation to undertake the artwork for the books.

But Yoshinaga insisted, saying subtle shades of color and brushwork he applies in his paintings convey gentleness.

“So I decided to do what I can,” he said.

He was also propelled to take part after what he felt at ground zero in Hiroshima when he visited to prepare for the anime adaptation of “Barefoot Gen,” a globally famed manga on the sufferings of A-bomb victims.

Ghibli’s maestro Hayao Miyazaki gives high marks to Oga’s depiction of nature, saying, “He is immensely gifted in the use of green color.”

For the paintings of the No. 5 Fukuryu Maru, he met with one of the surviving crew members to hear his experiences and watched a movie on the subject.

Apart from the painting of the boat in the forest, he also drew the version of the boat in the ocean, depicting the vessel floating with the backdrop of a blue sky.

Oga initially toyed with the idea of portraying the boat against the red glow of the sunset or in the rough waters. But he abandoned the idea partly because the red could remind viewers of the horror of the hydrogen bomb test.

“I decided it would be best to portray the vessel operating peacefully,” he said.

Kazuya Yasuda, a senior curator at Daigo Fukuryu Maru Exhibition Hall, said Oga’s works are so powerful that viewers are forced to stop and think before his paintings.

“Although none of his pictures describe things that conjure up a nuclear test, you will find yourself giving thought to the ensuing ordeal before you notice,” he said. “Some people gaze at his paintings for a long time.”