For those bunkering down to a winter of movie watching, a shared list from my pixel horizons.
On Paper Wings
When I think of World War II and Japan, the first thing that comes to mind is the hibakusha, a Japanese name for the surviving victims of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that literally translates to “explosion-affected people.” Long ago a documentary exposed me to horrifyingly surreal half-melted bodies of some of these people – some living survivors, and others the victims of radiation birth defects. This was the tail end of The Manhattan Project, a 3 year, 100,000 person United States project to develop a bomb.
On Paper Wings offers a little known flipside to that history. During WWII, the Japanese military developed a new weapon intended to strike directly at the American continent â€“ the balloon bomb. High school girls across Japan were conscripted into factories where they built thousands of balloons made of paper. These balloons were then attached to bombs and launched into the jet stream to drift toward North America. On May 5th, 1945, a pastor, his pregnant wife, and five children departed on a picnic in Southern Oregon. When they found an un-detonated balloon bomb, the device exploded, killing the pastorâ€™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.
Forty years later, a Japanese American man who had spent his wartime years in an internment camp found out about these deaths. He knew several women in Japan who as young girls had been forced to work on the balloon bombs, and the news of these deaths shocked and saddened them. These women decided to fold a thousand origami paper cranes to offer to the families of those killed in Oregon, and the groups eventually all met face to face. The friendships formed since have helped citizens on both sides of the Pacific cope with the tragedies they experienced during WWII.
On Paper Wings is the story of four Japanese women who worked on balloon bombs, the families of those killed in Oregon, and the man whose actions brought them all together forty years after WWII, and the balloon bomb project.
GÃ©nÃ©ral Idi Amin Dada: Autoportrait
Idi Amin, was a Ugandan military dictator and the President of Uganda from 1971 to 1979, with an estimates varying that 100,000 to 500,000 were killed during his rule. A confronting character for any film director to have to contend with, and with the constraints with which Idi Amin eventually placed on the film, French director Barbet Schroeder decided to call this a self-portrait by Amin. Upon release of the film, Amin sent a letter to Schroeder requesting additional cuts to the film. Schroeder refused, and Amin responded by rounding up 200 French citizens and confining them to a hotel surrounded by the Ugandan army. He also supplied them with Schroeder’s home telephone number and explained their release was conditional on the cuts. Within the 2 and a half minutes of cuts Schroeder inevitably made, he placed title cards crediting the gaps to Amin. These edits were restored after Amin’s fall from power.
The documentary promises : Amin trying to demonstrate his psychic control of crocodiles, Amin supervising a war-game simulation of an invasion of Israel, Amin dressing down his ministers at a cabinet meeting (two weeks after this meeting, the foreign minister, whom Amin criticizes here, is murdered).
Chris Marker – Vive la baleine AKA Three Cheers for the Whale (1972)
Most famous for La Jettee, his 1960’s black and white sci-fi short film made almost exclusively from photographs and narration, Chris Marker is also a formidable documentary maker, a film essayist of sorts. This short 17 minute film explores the whaling industry over the years, featuring historic photographs and paintings of whales and the whaling trade as well as real-life footage of whaling and harpooning. Marker sides with the hunted mammals in this film, and hunts himself, what it means about us that we have pursued such a past-time.