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Reminders of the Past

Where are the reminders of WWII bombing in Japan? Film Paper City investigates.

“How is it that a city that suffered destruction on [a nuclear] scale has no traces, physical or memorial, of it in the present day?” wondered University of California, Irvine professor David Fedman.

Fedman, the executive producer and historian of the film Paper City recently presented at the March 8 International Cinema lecture to discuss his experience making the movie and why there aren’t more memorials of the firebombing in Japan.

In WWII, 66 Japanese cities both big and small were firebombed by the US, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today, the few survivors of the attacks seem to be the only ones who remember the tragedy. Unfortunately, many of their stories have been lost to time because the Japanese government doesn’t teach about the firebombing in schools and society. Even though the government would benefit from memorializing these attacks, they have little interest in doing so. “What is really quite striking is the silence on this particular topic,” Fedman said. “The Japanese are eager to remember atomic destruction,” he notes, but not the firebombing or accompanying destruction.

Fedman offered a few suggestions for why the firebombing (but not the atomic bombing) is brushed under the rug:

  1. The Japanese are eager to nurture narratives of atomic victimization rather than admit to the war crimes that exposed their citizens to the firebombing. 
  1. Japan wanted to preserve US postwar alliances and not bring up previous conflicts. They looked toward the future and formed new relationships instead of dwelling on the war. 
  1. Avoidance became a cultural belief and was rooted in the passage of time. 

In a question and answer session following the lecture, one student asked for ways that viewers can better culturally and linguistically understand the situation. Fedman suggested seeing the disparity between what is captured on film versus real life since people act differently on camera than in person. Additionally, he emphasized record -keeping and watching how records are kept to ensure we have the full story of what happened.

The Paper City team hopes that the film raises awareness of this vital aspect of history and provides physical reminders of the firebombing. For more film insights, attend the next weekly IC lecture. Visit the IC website for the complete lecture schedule.

A photo of Osaka, Japan leveled by firebomb attacks.