When you watch a movie that resounds reconciliation, peace, love and forgiveness without ever hearing the words being mentioned, it is pretty hard to know where to start to gather one’s thoughts to scribble about it. I am writing this as a record for myself and if anyone else reads it – may you be blessed.
These are Covid times, the screening of Paper Lanterns organised by the Japanese Anglican community was on Zoom.
I had a recent memory of watching the 75th anniversary of Hiroshima bombings on the news; how dignified, pristine and orderly the gathering was, commemorating a horrific incident that took place in their country at the end of WWII. This part of world history did not feature too extensively in my learning in school, so I was curious when Yuki, a fellow Anglican invited me to the screening.
When the ‘A bomb’ fell on Hiroshima at 8.15 on 6 August 1945, Shigeaki Mori was an eight year old. His life was saved whilst some of his close family perished in the nuclear cloud that enveloped that region. He had just moved schools, and the one he just left was marooned with all teachers and children perishing in a flash. The carnage he witnessed as a child, now immortalised as paintings and drawings in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum formed part of the film. I have seen artwork of horror, but nothing can compare to these illustrations of human life melting away in the aftermath of the bomb. They were unapologetically gruesome, yet had huge artistic merit. The music composed by Chad Cannon was a fusion of Western and Japanese sounds and captured the sentiments that conjures up in you as a viewer.
Mr Mori was a gifted researcher and was more than curious of the history of this world event of which he was a part as a young boy. Along with the 140,000 Japanese people who perished in Hiroshima, there were 12 American POW’s who were captured by the Japanese army when their bomber Lonesome Lady crashed near Ikachi. Mr Mori was fuelled with compassion for the families of these 12 POW’s who he was convinced, knew nothing about the last moments of their loved ones’ lives ending in Hiroshima. This led him to delve into numerous historical records and copious amounts of letter writing scouring all 50 States in the US to find the next of kin of these 12 young men who lost their lives – it took him 40+ years!
There were two young men out of the 12 who survived the bombing, and were re-captured by the Japanese army. They were found to be extremely week and unwell. These men were taken to a doctor who tried to attend to them but they had all the signs and symptoms of nuclear radiation and died soon after. The men were given a proper burial, and in the film you see their families visiting the place where the hospital stood, now marked with a memorial plaque. The dignity offered to the enemy in such dire situations is palpable in the movie. Mr Mori’s efforts of finding the families of these POW’s have brought people together from across the United States who never knew each other before.
It was heart rending to hear them say that when they visited the village where the plane came down and met other Japanese people whose lives had been impacted by the bomb, there was absolutely no sense of anger or the expectation to hear the words of apology or repentance. They only wanted acknowledgement that it happened and that it will not happen again and that both sides will not forget the effect nuclear war has on life.
The Director of the movie, Barry Frechette was present at the viewing, and was able to talk us through the making of the film, which he said was more fulfilling than seeing the finished product. The extraordinary people he met and visiting places that were once decimated, now flourishing with life gave hope for humanity.
The film captures the 2016 memorial service at Hiroshima when President Obama visited. Mr Mori is seen hugging the President after being honoured for his efforts in his memorial speech. A scene I recall on the news as it was only 4 years ago. If only I knew then the depth of love, commitment and the reconciliatory spirit this human being had, I would have savoured the news item much more.
When there were celebrations of the end of the war, the families of US POW’s who were marked as ‘missing in action’ could not join in the celebrations not knowing the whereabouts of their loved ones. The efforts of one single man who was dedicated to helping total strangers, foreigners who were the oppressors, who lost loved ones in his country find closure, is a feat that needs shouting about; and Paper Lanterns depicted this so beautifully with no bias assigned to either side – just showing the people and the events as they were.
Now an octogenarian, one would imagine Mr Mori would want to put his feet up and relax after the fulfilment of a life long project – but no, his attention has moved to Nagasaki and the POWs who perished there…..!
to the memory of the 12 POWs