75 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Peace Cranes Events Review

You-Ri Yamanaka in The Mistake

The Mistake, The Priest’s Tale, The Doctor’s Tale

Review by Annie Mae Milburn

This month marks 75 years since the US dropped two atomic bombs on Japan on the 6th and 9th of August 1945. To mark the respective anniversaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two recent plays by Michael Mears have beautifully brought to life survivor accounts from each city, exploring the real depth of human suffering caused by the bombings. Recorded at Sands Films studio in London, the plays are now available to view online for free with the option to give a donation to support the performers, venue and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Performed on August 6th, The Priest’s Tale explores the story of a German Jesuit priest living in Hiroshima and his experience of the bombing and its subsequent repercussions. An adaptation of one of the survivor accounts in John Hersey’s book Hiroshima, Michael Mears gives an excellent and heartfelt portrayal of Father Wilhelm, accompanied with live violin music by Chihiro Ono.

Following this on August 9th was a production of The Doctor’s Tale, adapted from the book Nagasaki 1945 by Tatsuichiro Akizuki. Performed by Leo Ashizawa with support from Michael Mears and again music from Chihiro Ono, the play follows Akizuki’s experience working in a small hospital when the bomb hit Nagasaki and trying to carry out his duty of care during the aftermath with a small team and extremely limited supplies. 

The simple staging of these two plays emphasizes the narrative itself, allowing the audience to truly focus on the characters at hand and engage with the weight of their trauma. Chihiro Ono’s violin interludes add a beautiful musical backdrop, interspersing the story and periodically allowing the viewer a moment of melancholy pause to sit with and digest the complexity and struggle of the narrative. Mears succeeds in bringing to life the experience of everyday citizens in the face of such unimaginable horror, forcing us to reckon with the awful human cost of the bombings.

Alongside the unspeakable tragedy that forms the basis of both performances, however, is a hopeful note in how the characters and their communities organise themselves after the bomb hits to try and help in any way that they can. Dealing not only with the immediate aftermath of the bombings but also Japan’s subsequent surrender, ending the war, and the burgeoning mystery of radiation sickness, the performances are effective at conveying the full gravity of the attacks and their enduring consequences. 

As part of the Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre’s Peace Cranes project, The Mistake is a new play chronicling several people – ‘the survivor, the scientist and the soldier’ – and their experience with the bombing of Hiroshima. Directed by Jatinda Vermer and performed by Michael Mears and You-Ri Yamanaka, the play uses testimonies and eye witness accounts to entwine the stories of these three characters and their different roles in the tragedy. 

Unfortunately delayed due to COVID-19, The Mistake is now planned to open in August 2021 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. However, on August 22nd as part of Just Festival’s 2020 programme, an online event provided a sneak preview of the play through a video collage of rehearsal film and images. The video was followed by a post-show Q&A session featuring Michael Mears, You-Ri Yamanaka and Peace Cranes exhibition curator Iliyana Nedkova. Watch the entire event on the Just Festival YouTube channel here. 

Moving away from the single survivor story format of The Priest’s Tale and The Doctor’s Tale, The Mistake embraces multiple character perspectives to give a broader flavour of the different experiences and political undertones surrounding the terrible events in Hiroshima. 

The video montage provided an introduction to each of the characters: Shigeko Nomura, a Japanese woman living in Hiroshima during the war, Leo Szilard, a physicist integral to the discovery of nuclear chain reaction and the subsequent commencement of the Manhattan Project, and the American pilot tasked with dropping the bomb, Paul Tibbets. 

The addition of the Q&A session allowed Mears to go into detail about his thought processes and research behind the script, setting up an excellent background for the play. Some may be unfamiliar with less well-known actors involved in the making and deployment of the bomb, such as Leo Szilard, so the event also provided a deeper discussion of the historical context surrounding Hiroshima. 

Whilst Mears himself has not visited Hiroshima, Yamanaka discussed her first trip to the city earlier this year and how it affected her. She provided poignant insight by describing her thoughts as she disembarked the train and walked around the city, marveling at the extent of what has been rebuilt in only 75 years. 

The session ends on a thoughtful note as Nedkova queries how contemporary art and theatre might be able to contribute to uncovering more about the cultural legacy of Hiroshima and the bombing. This prompts a thoughtful discussion about the relative merits of theatre versus television and film, and whether or not reaching as many people as possible is really the ultimate true measure of success. 

As the future of in-person theatre remains somewhat uncertain for the time being, these three events have creatively shown how projects can adapt and evolve with the help of technology. Here’s hoping that The Mistake will be able to reach its intended audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and beyond next year. 

Click here to Watch The Priest’s Tale on Vimeo. 

Click here to watch The Doctor’s Tale on Vimeo, anytime.

Click here to watch The Mistake event on Just Festival’s YouTube channel.

Annie Mae Milburn is a graduate on a work placement with the P&J and is currently Editor of Peace & Justice News.

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Hiroshima Survivors Visit Peace and Justice Centre

On 29 March Yamada Reiko, Vice Chair and Yamada Midori of Tokyo Federation of A-Bomb Sufferers visited the Peace and Justice Centre and shared their stories of surviving the bombing of Hiroshima. We presented each of them with a tartan origami crane and told them about our 140,000 Origami Cranes project which aims to make that number of cranes to visualise and remember the people who were killed by the Hiroshima bomb in 1945 alone.

Hibakuxha visit p&JThey told us their stories, bringing to us a much deeper understanding of the suffering caused by the use of nuclear weapons. Their witness affected us profoundly so that we were re-inspired to our commitment to continue to raise awareness and to campaign for these terrible weapons to be forever banned.

Reiko was herself 11 years of age and in the yard of her school in Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped on 6th of August 1945. Her account of the day and the aftermath of were deeply moving. She told of how every family in her neighbourhood had victims of the bomb. “A good friend of mine was waiting for their mother to return home, when a moving black lump crawled into the house; they first thought it was a big black dog but soon realized it was their mother. She collapsed and died, leaving her 5 children behind…. From the third day dead bodies were brought to the playground of my school. They were cremated one after another. The town was filled with black smoke and the smell of burning bodies…. We planted sweet potato seeds in the schoolyard. On the day of harvest, as we cut the ground, human bones came out with potatoes and we screamed to see them. They were served for lunch but we could not eat them.”

Yamada Midori is a second generation Hibakusha, born in 1949, after the bombing.

She suffered breast cancer at age 34. Her father was mayor of her small town and went everyday for a week to find missing people and was exposed to radiation. She shared with us a copy of her beautiful and sad book telling the story of her brother Jiro-chan who was 13 years old at the time of the bombing. He was in middle school in Hiroshima and on 6 August he and his classmates were mobilized to work on house demolition, making firebreaks on a street very close to ground zero. When the bomb fell he was trapped under the fallen building but crawled out. Just then the debris burst into flames and all his classmates were consumed by the flames and died. After that Jiro-chan did not speak of that day until, after the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster. Before Japan was the victim of the US bomb, this time Japan was responsible. Then, aged 80 he began to speak saying “As one who experience the tragedy I should have informed many people of the atrocity of the atomic bombings. It should be my mission as a survivor…the way to remember and console the souls of my friends who perished.” Midori’s little gem of a book, made for children, says “He opened his heart and now he talks as if he offers prayers to his deceased friends.”

Following their visit to the P&J Centre Midori and Reiko headed down to the Scottish Parliament to meet with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. The following day they visited Faslane Peace Camp and saw the Faslane Naval Base where Trident nuclear weapons are based.

For more information on and to contribute to the 140,000 Cranes project please visit: http://peaceandjustice.org.uk/peace-organisations/140000-origami-cranes-project/

Photos by David Mackenzie (group) and Brian Larkin (Midori).


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