Paper City tells the story of three elderly survivors of the firebombing of Tokyo who, after decades of public and political indifference, are desperate to leave behind a public record of what happened that night. At just after midnight on March 10, 1945, the U.S. carried out a massive air attack on eastern Tokyo. In this densely urban area of wooden and paper houses, incendiary bombs unleashed a firestorm. As air raid sirens rang out, people leapt from their beds, gathered their families and fled to the streets—only to find their escape routes already cut off. By morning, more than 100,000 people were dead, a quarter of the city wiped off the map. Seven decades on, the trauma remains seared in the memories of survivors—and yet is barely discussed in Japan or abroad. On the 70th anniversary of this tragic date, they launch one final campaign to have the Japanese Government formally recognise civilian victims before they pass away.
BEHIND THE SCENES
BEHIND THE SCENES
BEHIND THE SCENES
A short summary of the issue the documentary is addressing
When WW2 came to a close, Japanese civilians were focused on immediate needs—food, shelter, and the search for loved ones. As rebuilding began, the defeated nation looked firmly to the future, rather than back at its war memories—a mix of guilt, shame and complicity.
For many bombing survivors, the Vietnam War changed this. Images of carpet-bombing and napalm flashed across TV screens, dredging up memories of what they had suffered—and the similarities between the old war and the new. Rather than be intimidated into silence, some began to speak out. Most famous are the hibakusha—survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Now recognized by the Japanese Government, and memorialized by their respective cities, their fight for recognition is known internationally.
But in Tokyo, and other bombed Japanese cities, air raid survivors have been ignored—and now, seven decades on, find themselves effectively erased from national and international historical narratives.
What is the impact vision statement of the documentary?
Paper City will give a voice to the survivors of the 1945 firebombing of Tokyo, and in doing so, aims to shine a light on the lasting impact of civilian-targeted air raids—and ultimately to inspire audiences to question the histories we are taught.
What outcomes does the project hope to achieve from making this documentary?
1) To rescue the firebombing from historical obscurity and give a lasting voice to the survivors.
2) Reframe the conversation and curriculum around World War II to highlight the civilian experience.
3) To raise awareness of Japanese civilian survivors’ ongoing campaigns against their own government for recognition and equal treatment, and elicit support.
4) To promote peace, empathy and understanding, particularly in relation to current conflicts abroad in which civilians are targeted.
5) To pressure state institutions in Japan to make some kind of formal acknowledgement or support of civilian air raid casualties.
How will this documentary achieve its outcomes?
Paper City and its impact campaign will focus a spotlight on the issue of civilians in war, and in bringing their stories to international audiences and younger viewers in Japan, be a tool to advance the survivors beyond their limited sphere of influence in the fight for equal treatment. The survivors’ harrowing stories of the firebombing, and their ongoing quest for recognition, will introduce viewers to the central themes: the historical sidelining of civilian casualties, the unequal post-war treatment of military personnel and civilians, and the dangers and implications of omitting them from historical narratives. For many viewers, this will be their first exposure to these issues.
After screenings, we will introduce resources for those who want to educate themselves further. Those motivated to do more, can volunteer time, money or resources to the groups already working towards equal treatment for civilians - and sign the ongoing petition by the survivor groups.
How will partnerships with this project help inform the project development?
Audience Engagement and Social Impact
What actions does this project hope for its viewers after seeing this film?
After screenings, we will introduce resources and contact details for those who want to educate themselves more on the firebombing of Tokyo, and the bombings of dozens of other Japanese cities. People will be able to access more information through Paper City’s website, or by visiting JapanAirRaids.org or Tokyo’s private War Damages Museum—organizations devoted to documenting civilian experiences. For those motivated to do more, we will encourage them to volunteer time, money or resources to the groups already working towards equal treatment for civilians—and to sign the ongoing petition that survivor groups have been using in their appeals to the Japanese Government.
Through our website, we will encourage people to build bridges across other differences, for instance, we hope that groups advocating for civilians in other countries will be moved to make connections with Japanese survivors, and to encourage each other in their respective campaigns.
Measurement and Evaluation
What is the projects indicators for success?
1) Attendance at film festival and cinema on demand screenings.
2) How many people watch the film when broadcast on television, and at non-theatrical screenings at high schools, universities and other organisations.
3) How many teachers utilise the film and study guide in their classrooms.
4) How many people are reached and engage with the subject matter through marketing, publicity, reviews and social media.
5) Whether the film can create enough momentum and force behind the issue to place pressure on the Japanese Government to address the survivors’ demands.