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Film brings together Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor survivors

New Mexico PBS will premiere a new documentary Thursday, October 28 at 7 p.m. that explores forgiveness after war. It brings together atomic bomb survivors from Japan with those who lived through the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. G.K. Hunter, the director of the film,“Sakura & Pearls: Healing From World War II,” says the title refers to cherry blossoms, or sakura, which represent the rebirth of Hiroshima, and the pearls represent the pearls of wisdom of Pearl Harbor.

G.K. HUNTER: So it really is a hopeful film. And the reason that I did it is because I wanted to know how far had healing happened, you know we’re 75, 80 years from World War II, and I wanted to see how we forgiven each other.

KUNM: Had any survivors of both Pearl Harbor and the atomic bombs in Japan ever formally come together before this?

HUNTER: In 2016, there was a commemoration with the then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and former US President Obama. And they visited both Hiroshima and the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor to commemorate the fallen. And during this time there was a meeting, informal meetings, but they weren't the face-to-face meetings that I was looking for. So after the 2006 commemoration, I said, ‘Well, we need to follow up on this. We need to sit them down face to face, let both of them tell their stories in front of their former enemies and really get to the heart of this.’ We needed to go deeper to see if we had forgiven each other.

KUNM: And where did you have them meet?

HUNTER: We met at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. There's a meeting room there with the view of the USS Arizona. We had two atomic bomb survivors fly out from Hiroshima. We had two Pearl Harbor Visitor Center educators, who are also Pearl Harbor survivors. And that's what the film really centers on. Capturing that exclusive meeting between former enemies.

KUNM: Was it difficult to arrange? Did they want to do it?

HUNTER: It all came together the last minute. I was a nail biter, I'll tell you, I'm like, ‘Am I crazy for even thinking of getting people of these generations to meet each other after such a hard history? What's going to happen?’ I really didn't know what was going to happen, and what they did was nothing short of inspiring.

KUNM: What was the conversation like for you watching it unfold.

HUNTER: I was nervous. I'll be honest, because if something went wrong, it's all my fault because I'm the one who invited them to come here. There's all sorts of customs, which I'm learning, and I'm still learning about Japanese culture. But I was absolutely humbled and surprised by how forthcoming they were, how uncensored they spoke, even though they were showing visible respect to their former adversaries, they really pulled no punches. They said, ‘I hated you guys. This is what it felt like for my house to be blown up. I was in the hospital for eight months and then redeployed. I was a little kid on the shores of Pearl Harbor, and the zeros are flying over my head, and I was scared from my life.’ They just came out and they said it and they retold both events. And while they're retelling it, we got the historic footage and we show the atomic bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We show the attack on Pearl Harbor because we want the future generations to know exactly what happened so we can learn from it.

KUNM: Why is it important today to tell these stories? What do you hope people will take away from this?

HUNTER: I hope that there's three things that people take away from this. One, that what we’ve previously thought was unforgivable actually, people have found forgiveness for them. Two, hope that former enemies can come together and truly be friends, not only in title but in actual relationships. And three, I think we can prevent future global conflicts, especially around the Pacific Rim, which is in the news a lot lately. If we listen to our elders, listen to what they felt were mistakes, listen to what they thought was necessary and stopped repeating history. We don't need another global conflict. And if we listen to these four elders, we won't do it if we listen to their advice.

KUNM: G.K. Hunter, thank you for talking with me. Thank you for this film.

HUNTER: Thank you very much for having me.

Megan has been a journalist for 25 years and worked at business weeklies in San Antonio, New Orleans and Albuquerque. She first came to KUNM as a phone volunteer on the pledge drive in 2005. That led to volunteering on Women’s Focus, Weekend Edition and the Global Music Show. She was then hired as Morning Edition host in 2015, then the All Things Considered host in 2018. Megan was hired as News Director in 2021.