During WWII, the Japanese military developed a new weapon intended to
strike directly at the American continent - the balloon bomb. High
school girls across Japan were conscripted into factories where they
worked long days making paper to be assembled into giant balloons. These
young students lived difficult lives as the war worsened for Japan.
Most had no idea that the balloons they were making would be attached to
bombs and then launched into the jet stream to drift toward North
America. The idea sounded ludicrous; but thousands of balloon bombs were
launched by the Japanese military, and hundreds did arrive after being
carried by the wind across the Pacific.
On May 5th, 1945, a pastor, his pregnant wife, and five children departed on a picnic just outside of Bly, Oregon. When they found an un-detonated balloon bomb in the forest, the device exploded, killing the pastor's wife and all five children. They became the only people killed on the continental U.S. as the result of enemy action during WWII.
As families in Bly struggled to cope with the balloon bomb explosion, a young Japanese
American man was living in an internment camp just sixty miles away. The Tule Lake Segregation Center in northern California was one of ten War Relocation Camps established by the U.S. after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1942. As thousands of people of Japanese ancestry were forced to leave their homes and take up residence in the isolated camps, Yuzuru “John” Takeshita was a young American citizen who suddenly found himself living behind barbed wire in his own country.
While in the camp, he heard rumors of balloon bombs flying over the Pacific from Japan; but he never saw one. It would be forty years before he ever heard of them again.
In 1985, a series of events led John Takeshita (now a university professor) to find out about the balloon bomb project and the incident in Bly. He met several Japanese women who as young girls were forced to make paper for the balloon bomb project. When he sent them the names and ages of those killed in Oregon, they were shocked and saddened. These women had experienced first-hand the total devastation that WWII brought to their own country, and now they saw an opportunity to reach out for peace.
These women decided to fold a thousand origami paper cranes to offer to the families of those killed in Bly. It was a decision that would heal wounds on both sides of the Pacific as friendships were formed, and the groups eventually all met face to face.
“On Paper Wings” is a documentary film about the lives of the Japanese and American civilians who were affected by the balloon bomb project, and how they all came together forty years after the end of the war.
Ilana Sol is a filmmaker who lives and works in Portland, Oregon. She has worked in the film industry for thirteen years on a variety of independent, educational and commercial projects. She currently works part-time at the Northwest Film Center in addition to doing freelance research and production work. When her hobby of historical research led her to find out about the Japanese balloon bombs, she soon found herself spending hundreds of hours researching these bizarre weapons, and traveling thousands of miles to meet with those affected by them. Truth is often stranger than fiction, and this has solidified her love of documentary filmmaking. She is the recipient of grants from the Oregon Council for the Humanities, the Regional Arts and Culture Council, and the Oregon Heritage Commission. “On Paper Wings” is her first film.