The following is the summary of a breakout session that was part of the 2016 Annual Conference.
In the summer of 1945, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed. What few people know is that 12 American POWs were on the ground in Hiroshima, 1,300 feet from ground zero. Paper Lanterns is a documentary that tells the story of Shigeaki Mori, a young Japanese boy at the time who witnessed the explosion at Hiroshima and later spent 35 years tracking down the families and stories of the 12 American POWs.
USJC was honored to host Barry Frechette, Director of Paper Lanterns, who flew in from Hiroshima to attend. Following the film screening, Council Leader Fred Katayama, Anchor and Producer at Thomson Reuters, led a discussion and audience Q&A. The director’s great uncle had been best friends with one of the POWs. In doing research and realizing it was a story no one knew, Frechette decided it was something that needed to be shared. As Mr. Mori felt moved over the course of his life to help the families of those who had died, Frechette was inspired to tell his story. Along with the personal connection, it was so impactful for him as Mr. Mori was an ordinary man who went to extraordinary lengths to help those who did not have a voice. He shared his thought that, “at the core of it, it is a story about humanity.”
The film elicits an emotional response, and audience members expressed the powerful impact it had on them. Several shared similar thoughts that the story was apropos, and that in a time of uncertainty, we must learn from the past and continue to treat each other with empathy and compassion. One attendee felt it was a good reminder to believe in and keep doing what you feel is right.
President Obama became the first sitting U.S. President to visit Hiroshima in May of 2016. The film featured a portion of his visit to a wreath laying ceremony at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, during which he referenced Mr. Mori; “the man who sought out families of Americans killed here, because he believed their loss was equal to his own.” Following the speech, the two men shared what would become an iconic embrace.
“And perhaps above all, we must reimagine our connection to one another as members of one human race. For this, too, is what makes our species unique. We’re not bound by genetic code to repeat the mistakes of the past. We can learn. We can choose. We can tell our children a different story –- one that describes a common humanity; one that makes war less likely and cruelty less easily accepted.”
— President Barack Obama, Hiroshima, May 27, 2016