NEW YORK — A 20-minute trailer for a film about Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who survived the atomic bombings of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki and died in January, was shown during the recent New York Peace Film Festival.
“I think he must be so happy, just as he was happy in the United Nations four years ago speaking out, and this film is definitely his wish,” Hidetaka Inazuka, the producer of “Twice Bombed, Twice Survived, Part II,” told an audience of about 70 on March 26 at the kickoff of the three-day annual film festival.
He was referring to Yamaguchi’s compelling drive to share his experiences with the world in the hope that by retelling his story there would never be another atomic bombing.
During the making of the film, the spirited 93-year-old died Jan. 4 after a battle with stomach cancer.
Despite his illness, Yamaguchi remained active. He even received Hollywood filmmaker James Cameron and his friend, Charles Pellegrino, the author of “The Last Train from Hiroshima,” at his hospital when they visited him in Nagasaki in December.
He managed to secure a promise from the director of “Titanic” and “Avatar” to one day make a film about the horrors of the atomic weapons that were used in Japan.
Inazuka’s earlier film, “Twice Bombed, Twice Survived,” highlighted the survival stories of seven people who miraculously lived through not only the bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, but also the second atomic bomb in Nagasaki three days later.
Yamaguchi stood out from the others as the oldest and first attracted Inazuka’s attention through the power of his words as a tanka poet.
As a 29-year-old employee of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., Yamaguchi was just 3 km from ground zero when the first bomb detonated over Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m.
He had just stepped off a tram when he was knocked unconscious by the blast after watching two parachutes drop from the sky.
Although traumatized and burned from the fallout, he managed to later catch a train back to Nagasaki to return to his wife and baby boy.
After a harrowing journey to his native Kyushu, he dutifully reported to work on Aug. 9, just in time to witness the second atomic blast while recounting his Hiroshima story to his supervisor.
Despite his experiences, Yamaguchi only became an activist in later life. Inazuka explained to the audience that Yamaguchi’s decision to “come out” coincided with his son’s death at 59 from cancer after exposure to the bomb as an infant.
The latest film takes up where the first one left off. It was initially intended to focus solely on Yamaguchi and his efforts to educate others by keeping alive the stories of the hibakusha.
It contains footage of the elderly yet sprightly man walking the streets of New York and energetically delivering a moving testimony at the United Nations, where he wowed his audience by pledging to keep fighting for the rest of his life.
It shows heart-felt presentations Yamaguchi gave to high school students in Japan and the United States. Numerous teens can be seen moved to tears as they promised to carry on the fight against nuclear weapons.
A frail Yamaguchi is shown bonding with Cameron at his bedside, telling him, “I feel I have done my duty.”
Inazuka intends to complete the movie by July in time to premiere at the first-ever Nagasaki International Peace Film Festival, modeled after the one in New York.
“This is not the result, this is the beginning and this is what we got from him, and like he said, a baton is being passed on to the next generation,” Inazuka explained.
He is now mulling over the direction to take. He is thinking about exploring the unique relationship Yamaguchi shared with his daughter, Toshiko.
Yamaguchi’s story has also given another 91-year-old survivor of both bombs the courage to come forward for the first time in 65 years, recounting for Inazuka his story.
The producer hopes to have an English version ready for a fall premiere in New York.
“Mr. Yamaguchi was our inspiration. He wanted to give us the message,” Yumi Tanaka, executive producer of the New York Peace Film Festival, told audience members. “Our duty is to pass on his words to as many people as possible.”
Asked when Cameron might work on a film on the subject, Pellegrino, who also served as scientific adviser for “Avatar,” said the timing is difficult to predict.
“I do know that it is something that he definitely wants to cover in the future,” he explained. “Seeing that the double survivors are the bridge between the two cities, (it is) the way to tell the story of the two cities, but we just don’t know when.”
Pellegrino recalled his first meeting with Yamaguchi in 2008.
“I only knew him a short time, but he had a huge impact on me,” he added.
Explaining how Yamaguchi “radiated kindness,” Pellegrino said he always admired him for choosing hope, instead of anger and depression, as a way of dealing positively with his past.
Another audience member, nuclear researcher and disarmament educator Kathleen Sullivan, recalled the impact Yamaguchi had on her life and how he set an example to follow.
“It is brilliant to capture the testimony and the life of hibakusha and he is clearly unique,” Sullivan said. “This film will help other people meet him that did not have that opportunity, so that is really important.”
Others, like Taeko Takigami, learned for the first time about two-time atomic bomb survivors despite being familiar with other survivors’ stories.
“His message reaches me because he doesn’t raise his voice. It is definitely not his anger, but his true personal story which is really powerful,” she said.
The New York Peace Film Festival screened nine films. Under the common theme of promoting peace and disarmament, a range of subjects in countries such as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, the United States and Japan were addressed.