The time between the attack on Pearl Harbor and the detonation of the atomic bomb changed the world.
Millions of people were affected in both the United States and Japan.
Filmmaker G.K. Hunter takes a look at what happens when Japanese survivors of the atomic bomb meet the American survivors of Pearl Harbor in his documentary, “Sakura & Pearls: Healing from World War II.” The documentary will broadcast at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 28, on New Mexico PBS, channel 5.1. It will also stream on-demand on the PBS Video app.
Hunter says the documentary wasn’t planned and he happened to stumble on the story while visiting Hiroshima to see the cherry blossoms bloom.
“I met my first atomic bomb survivor who was giving a talk at the Atomic Dome structure, which is the only remaining building that survived the atomic bomb blast. He inspired me to start interviewing atomic bomb survivors in a similar way that Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation was preserving the testimonies of Jewish Holocaust survivors,” Hunter says. “My mother suggested that I also record the testimonies of the U.S. Pearl Harbor survivors since I lived 15 minutes away from the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. The next thing that I know, I’m filming a documentary about Japanese atomic bomb survivors meeting the U.S. Pearl Harbor survivors. I was so enthralled that I felt that I needed to capture this exchange for the future generations to see.”
The documentary captures uncensored stories of the survivors from both sides, striking a deep emotional chord, and showing that the reconciliation process post-World War II is still happening.
In 2016, U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came together for two historic memorial services to commemorate World War II. It was the first time that sitting leaders from either nation had paid their respects to those who perished during World War II.
They met at both the Atomic Dome in Hiroshima, Japan and at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor on Oahu, Hawaii.
It took 75 years for such a meeting to occur and this powerful exchange of respect still reverberates today.
Hunter says despite the progress in reconciliation, not all survivors feel the same.
“Some still feel the emotional pain of that day and others still have shrapnel coming out of their skin,” Hunter says. “But those who agreed to be interviewed often shared about how they hated the Japanese for the surprise attack for many years. Some boycotted Japanese products after the war and spoke poorly about the Japanese for years after the war. But a good number of Pearl Harbor survivors shared that they did forgive what happened in war, recognizing that they were all soldiers just doing their jobs.”
While there were many challenges for Hunter, he kept finding pieces of stories to tell.
Everything had a purpose, even the name.
“One of the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb survivors named Mori-san told me about returning to his school after the bomb dropped,” he says. “Everything had burned down, so they had to rebuild and replant everything. They planted cherry blossom trees, which they call the sakura, in the back of the school. The first bloom after the bomb dropped was so brilliant that I saw the sakura bloom as a rebirth of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On the U.S. side, Pearl Harbor got its name because the lochs were rich with oysters. The pearls under the water are precious, just like the deceased serviceman who are still underwater inside the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. Sakura and pearls are both beautiful things that remind us to value life.”