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Where EAST meets the Northwest

HIDDEN HISTORY. Ilana Solís On Paper Wings, a documentary about Japanís "balloon bomb" program during World War II, looks at the only deaths within the continental U.S. ó in southern Oregon ó as a result of enemy action during the war. The film airs Monday, November 10 at Portlandís Northwest Film Center. (Photo/National Archives, courtesy of Film Is Forever Productions)

From The Asian Reporter, V18, #44 (November 4, 2008), page 9 & 16.

Uncovering one of the best kept secrets of World War II

On Paper Wings

Directed and produced by Ilana Sol

Showing Monday, November 10 at 7:00pm

Northwest Film Center, Whitsell Auditorium,

Portland Art Museum, Portland

By Marie Lo

On May 5, 1945, a Japanese balloon bomb killed six people just outside Bly, a small town in Southwest Oregon. They had been on a Sunday school picnic when they stumbled on the bomb and accidentally detonated it. Five children and the young pregnant wife of the local pastor were killed. Only the pastor survived.

They were the only fatal casualties on the continent during World War II as a result of enemy attack.

The goal of the Japanese balloon project was to spread public panic and to undermine the will of the American people. Nine thousand balloons carrying bombs were released from Japan into the Pacific jet stream. About two hundred of them found their way to the west coast of North America. Made of paper, many of the balloons were damaged, and the bombs malfunctioned and failed to detonate.

The story of Japanese balloon bombs is one of the best kept secrets of World War II. The first balloon bombs to reach the United States were reported in November 1944. To downplay the balloonsí success in crossing the Pacific Ocean and to prevent public panic, the U.S. government censored information about the presence of the bombs.

In On Paper Wings, first-time filmmaker and Portlander Ilana Sol delicately excavates the forgotten history of balloon bombs and the lives they impacted. Featuring rarely seen footage of the bombs as well as interviews with the women who built them and families of the victims, the result is a carefully researched documentary about grief, injustice, and ultimately healing and reconciliation.

Without sacrificing historical detail and complexity, the richly textured film deftly tells the stories of three different communities touched by the balloon bomb project.

In Yame, Japan, viewers are introduced to four women who, as young schoolgirls, were conscripted to build the paper balloons. Despite the long hours and backbreaking work, they had little understanding of the effects of the bombs they were building.

Back in Bly, a small, tight-knit lumber town, residents continued to grapple with the inconsolable loss of their children. And while these families tried to make sense of their grief, 60 miles south of Bly, across the border in California, was Tule Lake, one of the 10 internment camps where Japanese Americans were forcibly sent. It was at Tule Lake that 15-year old Yuzuru "John" Takeshita first heard rumors about the balloons. He would not hear about them again until 40 years later.

On a visit to Japan, Takeshita met one of the women who had worked on the balloon bombs. Upon returning home, he set out to research the bombs and was surprised to discover one had killed children in Oregon. When he relayed the information back to the women in Japan, their sadness and guilt spurred them to reach out to the residents of Bly. As a gesture of peace and hope, the women sent them 1,000 paper cranes.

There is a poetic symmetry in the structure of the film. Paper becomes the means of destruction as well as a symbol of hope and peace. The paper balloons that brought the bombs are later replaced with paper cranes. Since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, paper cranes have become a powerful anti-war symbol. And for the residents of Yame and Bly, they also offered the chance for healing and mutual forgiveness.

Though the film is ostensibly about the balloon bomb project and its forgotten history, it is also a poignant anti-war film that resonates with issues we face today: the toll of war, the death of innocents, and the suspension of constitutional rights. More importantly, however, On Paper Wings documents the power of forgiveness and illuminates our common humanity.

On Paper Wings is screening at the Northwest Film Center as part of the Northwest Film and Video Festival. The filmmaker will be in attendance. To learn more, call (503) 221-1156, or visit <> or <>.