With artificial intelligence-powered technology, high school students are colorizing black and white photos of Hiroshima taken before the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing of the western Japan city.
The 14 students at Hiroshima Jogakuin high school launched the initiative in November last year, aiming to make the images come more alive for viewers and help revive the memories of survivors so they can better pass on their experiences to the next generation.
“We are the last generation who can talk to atomic bomb survivors. We want to treasure conversations generated through the photos and contribute to keeping records of their accounts,” Anju Niwata, a 16-year-old project member, said.
The students began the work after learning about AI colorization technology freely available online from their collaborator Hidenori Watanabe, a professor of information design at the graduate school of the University of Tokyo.
The AI technology, which stores data on 2.3 million matching color and black and white photos of the same subject, first picks the appropriate colors.
(Anju Niwata, L, and Hiroshima Jogakuin students bring back Hiroshima’s past.)
The students then modify the colors to bring them as close as possible to the colors of the original scenes based on the accounts of atomic bomb survivors they interviewed.
The students are colorizing photos they received from four atomic bomb survivors, and also keeping video records of survivors’ accounts.
Tokuzo Hamai, an 83-year-old atomic bomb survivor from Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, provided 35 photos from the prewar period, including those capturing him with his parents and siblings, who died due to the atomic bombing. The pictures were kept safe in the aftermath of the bombing at the place to which he was evacuated.
“Adding colors to the photos made the scenery in the photos more stereoscopic,” Hamai said, adding happily that the images had brought back forgotten memories of a friend.
Watanabe said that black and white pictures seem to divide the lives of modern people and those of the prewar period. “I hope colorization (technology) will bridge the postwar and prewar periods,” he said.
The United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and the second on Nagasaki three days later. Around 210,000 people are estimated to have died from the attacks by the end of 1945. Japan surrendered on Aug. 15, bringing World War II to an end.