Paper Lanterns (2016)
Review by Debie Thomas
Back in May, I attended a screening of Paper Lanterns, a documentary film about Shigeaki Mori, a survivor of the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima. Mori was eight years old when the bomb fell on his home city. In the film, he describes the mushroom cloud, and a darkness so total he could not see the fingers he held up to his face. He describes running through the ruined streets after the blast, tripping over the countless bodies that littered his path.
An amateur historian, Mori spent his early adulthood documenting the events of that terrible day. In the course of his research, he discovered the virtually unknown fact that twelve American POWs had died in the blast alongside the 140,000 Japanese victims — and that’s when his interest became an obsession. Though he didn’t speak a word of English, or have any personal connection to the United States, those twelve airmen broke Mori’s heart. At a time when he had every reason to fear and hate Americans, Mori saw the twelve young men, not as enemies, but as boys alone and forgotten in a doomed city, fellow victims deserving of the same dignity and compassion as their Japanese counterparts.
For the next forty-two years, Mr. Mori painstakingly researched those twelve men, learning their stories, seeking out their final resting places, tracking down their relatives in the U.S to offer solace and closure, and working to have their names registered at the Hiroshima Peace Museum. The research was slow, hard, frustrating, and costly. It involved combing through thousands of war-time drawings and documents, cold-calling people in the U.S in the hopes of finding the relatives of the deceased, wrestling through the red tape of Japanese bureaucracy, and working extra jobs on the side to fund a ceremonial plaque to honor the POWs. All this, while facing the bewilderment and contempt of his fellow countrymen, who couldn’t understand the compassion that drove him.
Paper Lanterns tells the story of Mr. Mori's amazing work, and of the impact he made on the world around him through his deep compassion and tenacity.