The current generation may associate nuclear fear with the fifties and early sixties, but it was something we very much continued to live with in the eighties. I remember drills in which I was led out of class to squat down in the hallway with my knees against my chest, because somehow, this would protect a bunch of elementary school kids from a nuclear blast.
This seems like an idiotic thing to do. It was. But governments have always tried to soften the realities of the idiocy of nuclear warfare. In Jimmy Murakami’s 1986 animated adaptation of Raymond Briggs’s graphic novel, When the Wind Blows, a conservative, middle-aged, British couple refer to a government-issued pamphlet to prepare for imminent nuclear annihilation. Discussing their doom as if nothing more than a big snowstorm is on the way, Jim and Hilda paint their windows to insulate themselves from radiation, take inventory of canned goods, do the laundry, hide behind wooden doors and inside paper bags. It’s subtly played for laughs, but is it any more ridiculous than cowering from fallout in a school hallway?
Ridiculously, the couple’s efforts help them survive the blast. They’re not out of the woods yet, and the aftermath of the detonation sees When the Wind Blows gradually turn from droll satire to disturbing and depressing.
Murakami animated the most pungent nuclear-age satire since Dr. Strangelove in appropriately bizarre fashion. He combines childlike drawings (Jim and Hilda look like refugees from Nickelodeon’s “Doug”), sculpted live action backdrops, and stop-motion elements in the same frame. I have never seen another film that looks like When the Wind Blows. Murakami also employs flairs of other styles, such as the violently sketched sepia animations that accompany the bomb’s impact, snatches of actual WWII news footage, and the fantastical pastel passages that imagine a happier outcome for James and Hilda in fairyland. Voicing our cast of two, John Mills and Peggy Aschcroft employ a totally unaffected delivery that lends arresting realism to all of the grim strangeness.
Twilight Time’s new blu-ray edition of When the Wind Blows looks terrific and comes with a nice selection of extras. The jewel of these is the feature-length Arts Council documentary Jimmy Murakami: Non-Alien from 2010. Murakami’s experience in a Californian concentration camp during WWII haunt this intimate portrait of and narrated by the artist. His focus on the horrid disruptions of war and the ways family helps one endure relates to the feature presentation directly. An excellent 24-minute doc specifically about that feature, The Wind and the Bomb, tracks When the Wind Blows from page to screen featuring interviews with Murakami, Briggs, and the animators. Their responses to “What would you do in the event of an actual nuclear attack?” is disarming and disturbing. The unrestored footage of the film in this documentary really made me appreciate how good Twilight Time’s blu-ray looks. There’s also a 13-minute interview with the eccentric Briggs. He based Jim and Hilda on his parents, and this interview reveals how deep his fixation on them goes. The isolated music track showcases David Bowie’s memorable theme song and Roger Waters’s soundtrack, which is as schizo as Murakami’s animation: doomy and synthesized during the horrifying scenes of approaching planes and imploding buildings; beautiful and acoustic during the fanciful interludes. A feature commentary from editor Joe Fordham and film historian Nick Redman round out an impressive lot of supplements to an extraordinary film.
Get the Twilight Time edition of When the Wind Blows at Screen Archives.com here.