Real-life miracle men are hard to come by, but director Barry Frechette found one such man in the person of Shigeaki Mori, the focus of Frechette’s 2016 documentary “Paper Lanterns.” Mori’s miracle, however, is no mere supernatural feat, but rather an act of sublime compassion. Having witnessed the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima by U.S. pilots in 1945 at the end of World War II, Mori not only lived to tell about it, but made it his life’s mission to reach out to families of 12 U.S. POWs held in a camp near the city when “Little Boy” fell from the sky.
Frechette’s film relates the tale of Mori’s quest in his own plaintive voice, filtered through the prism of survivors like the family of POW Normand Brissette, whose legacy had lived on in Frechette family legend.
Scruffington Post: How did you find the story that became “Paper Lanterns?”
Barry Frechette: My great-uncle Eddy was a friend of one of those POWs, a guy named Normand Brissette. So the story of my uncle’s friend who died in the war made its way through my family and found me at just the right time. I’d known about the story growing up, and then I came across an old scrapbook with some old photos and clippings, around four or five years ago. I got my hooks in it and I couldn’t let go.
SP: How did Mr. Mori become involved?
BF: In that scrapbook, there was an article that mentioned him, about how he had contacted one of the other POWs’ sister, sent her a letter from Japan. So I sent a message to him through the “Stars and Stripes” newspaper. And then I actually went over to Japan to meet him.
SP: How did you approach narrative in the film?
BF: What we set out to do was to tell the story through Mr. Mori’s eyes. We let him explain what happened, and through that you understand why he does what he does. And at some points in the film, we look at the journey through the perspective of some of the POWs’ surviving family members.
SP: What was Mori’s motivation for reaching out to those families?
BF: Mr. Mori was eight years old when the bomb dropped, and his family had just moved outside the city, otherwise he would have been killed. He survived the night, saw the aftermath. He looked at it from the point of view that those POWs were victims, too. He’s an amazing man, a man who spent 35 years of his life giving a voice to those 12 men. He’s a true peacemaker.
SP: Given that the bombing of Japan is still a sensitive, even polarizing topic 70 years after the fact, how has “Paper Lanterns” been received?
BF: It’s taken on a life of its own, in ways we could never have imagined. We’ve been lucky enough to screen the film at several festivals. Then we were invited to show it at the U.S. Embassy in Japan. When Pres. Obama went to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park last year, Mr. Mori was invited and had a front row seat. When he went up there and shared a hug with President, that was a special moment for everyone.
“Paper Lanterns” will screen Sunday, July 30 at 7 p.m. at Scruffy City Hall.