By Thi-Le Vo
Northwest Asian Weekly
Just when we think we’ve leaned enough about the weapons used during WWII, a documentary entitled “On Paper Wings” draws our attention to a Japanese weapon many of us have previously not heard about, shedding light on an important part of American history that has been overlooked.
The Japanese balloon bomb project launched over 9,000 balloons from Yame, Japan, and more than 200 of the bombs landed in North America.
The Japanese were able to create a device that would eventually land in U.S. territory through their study of jet streams to North America. Although most of the balloons did not land in the United States, it did, however, cause public hysteria in the areas where the balloon landed.
The people who manufactured this weapon were young Japanese school girls. They were mobilized from their classes to factories in Japan to reproduce, on a massive scale, the balloon bombs.
“On Paper Wings” interviews a handful of the Japanese women about their involvement in this project during WWII. Although these women were producing balloons on a daily basis, they did not know that bombs would be attached to their work
As a result, the Japanese women would not begin to know the effect of their actions until a friend informed them about their involvement. These women would find out that one of the balloon bombs they made exploded and killed a pregnant woman and five other children in Bly, Ore.
This friend, Yuzuru “John” Takeshita, turns out to be the middle man that connects the women in Japan to the families that were affected by the balloon detonation. Takeshita was also one of the thousands of Japanese Americans relocated to one of 10 relocation camps in America.
After the Japanese women learned about their association to the people killed by the balloon, the women made a thousand paper cranes to give to the families of the victims. The Japanese women met the families in Bly 40 years after the war ended.
“On Paper Wings” is an impressive documentary that allows viewers to understand that history is not static or stable. History changes and builds upon the past, that we thought we knew, when new stories and information surface. The documentary brings new light to WWII and the involvement that Japanese women had during the war.
In addition, the documentary does an excellent job in raising public awareness about government involvement and the censorship of media during WWII. With the example of the Bly incident, it showed that if the public had been warned about objects that looked like the balloon, there could have been a possibility that those who were killed by the bomb could have avoided it.
Although many think that censorship by the U.S. government is rare, this documentary does make a viewer think about what information the government allows the media to cover with the current war in the Middle East.
More importantly, this film is successful in educating us with new information about WWII. It raises attention to WWII devices that would otherwise not be heard of or understood by the Japanese and American public. This documentary lets the audience feel as if they are also a part of uncovering this recently unearthed secret. ♦
“On Paper Wings” was recently screened at NW Film Forum in Seattle. The DVD of the film is currently available for purchase. For more information, visit www.onpaperwingsthemovie.com.
Thi-Le Vo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.