by Lauren Daley '05
Among the killed when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945 were 12 American prisoners of war. Among the survivors, an 8-year-old Japanese boy named Shigeaki Mori.
Mori might have grown up bitter against the Americans who dropped the bomb—instead, he grew up focused on recognizing the 12 young Americans who died from it.
Mori, now 79, has spent his life trying to get the 12 POWs who died in the Hiroshima bombing recognized by the Japanese government as fellow victims.
Directed and produced by Stonehill alum Barry Frechette ’92, the new documentary “Paper Lanterns” tells Mori’s story, and how his perseverance helped rest the minds and hearts of 12 American families-- including the family of POW Norman Brissette of Lowell, Mass.
“Paper Lanterns” is the first feature film for the Emmy Award-winning advertising producer. The film has been shown at various festivals and private screenings both in the U.S. and Japan.
“We say all the time 'Blessed are the peacemakers.' Well, that’s what Mori means to me,” said Frechette, a communication major at Stonehill.
“He didn't have to research the deaths of 12 Americans. He didn't have to reach out to each one of their families, to make sure their loved ones were not forgotten. No one asked that he take a second job to put up a plaque--the only plaque for Americans-- in Hiroshima. He did what he felt was the right thing. And that has made all the difference.”
Today, Frechette is the Director of Integrated Production at Connelly Partners in Boston and, over the years, he has created TV ads, radio spots and content for Web site and digital platforms for a variety of companies.
“Stonehill helped me find my passion for storytelling. My communication classes, along with the film studies classes, helped spark that fire to ask questions and figure out ways to create and share stories with others,” said Frechette who is married to classmate Carolyn (Janik) Frechette ’92.
But the Billerica resident has never made a full-length documentary — until now.
“After some research, I was shocked to see that very little was written about these (POWs). The one real connection was actually from a Japanese man,” he said, referring to Mori.
“Mori petitioned the mayor of Hiroshima to have all 12 names on the register in the Peace Museum there. He sends the (American POWs’) families Christmas cards each year,” Frechette said.
In 2013, Frechette met with Brissette’s family in Lowell. He flew to Japan to interview Mori in February 2014. The finished film saw a special screening sponsored by the American Embassy in April this year.
Later in the spring, Mori was recognized for a second time—by President Barack Obama, who visited Hiroshima.
“We were blessed to have some real fans of the film at different levels of the government... We received notice the day before Obama's visit that the Moris were invited,” said Frechette, who tuned into the emotional event on BBC.
When Obama hugged Mori, Frechette said, "It was such a special moment... It's something I will never forget." The image is posted on the documentary’s Web site.
"Paper Lanterns" opens in modern-day Hiroshima, in the Moris' living room.
His wife, Kayoko, is making tea. “We are both survivors,” she says in Japanese. She was 3, Mori 8, when the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima in 1945, she tells us.
“Someone told him that some American soldiers had also died in the bombing. He realized people in America didn’t know about it,” she says. “He started trying to get in contact with the relatives of the deceased. And that’s how we got to where we are today.”
Cut to Mori, now 77, balding, be speckled, riding in a bus. Reflecting on the discovery of the 12 Americans, his voice-over says in Japanese:
“I wanted to let other people know about the history I’d uncovered… I didn’t want it to end with just me being pleased about what I’d found out.”
Frechette said the Mori family were “very humbled” by the finished film. “Seeing the response from all over the world …has touched a chord with everyone” involved with the film, he said.
The families of the American POWS visited Hiroshima, in what for Frechette, was a powerful moment.
"For the Brissette and the Neal families… making that visit to Hiroshima for each of the family members was important. It made a very real connection with the history of their family members as well as... Mori,” he said.
Another poignant moment for Frechette occurred at the memorial for the 70th anniversary of the Atomic Bombing in Hiroshima when Ralph Neal, of Kentucky, a nephew of one of the POWs, and Mori sat together in the Bereaved Family section.
"At that point, I really knew... no matter how the film turned out, we were doing something unique," Frechette said. “Somewhere along the way, (the film) became more of a cause. To shed light on the sacrifice for the Brissettes, the Neals, and all the other POWs killed there, and the real compassion of Mori, all these years later.
"It's a story that's eluded the history books, and seeing it be told in such a personal and emotion way has really touched people,” he said. “Even smallest symbols of compassion can have a ripple effect that can change lives.”
The Martin Institute at Stonehill is working to bring Barry Frechette to campus for a screening of Paper Lanterns during the upcoming academic year.