Her family lived through the Hiroshima bombing, but a culture of silence kept Mitchie Takeuchi in the dark. Her new film spotlights the stories of survivors

Photo Courtesy of Mitchie Takeuchi.

Back in the late 80s, KGNU cut its teeth with the stories of the Rocky Flats – which is still a very prominent topic on our airwaves. This week, another nuclear disaster takes center stage in Boulder – the atomic bombs detonated by the United States over Hiroshima in 1945.

Naropa University is hosting a film screening of The Vow From Hiroshima tomorrow, April 24th, in honor of Earth Justice Day – an annual event at the university dedicated to conversations about environmental and social justice on campus and beyond.

KGNU’s Jackie Sedley spoke with Mitchie Takeuchi, producer and co-writer of the film, about her connection to Hiroshima and what she hopes audiences take away from her work.

“I grew up in Hiroshima,” said Takeuchi. “My grandparents and my mother survived the atomic bombing on August 6th, 1945. And, uh, my grandfather at that time was the head of the Red Cross Hospital, which he was transferred from Tokyo to found in Hiroshima in 1937. So, he experienced the atomic bombing at the Red Cross Hospital…So, even though I didn’t really hear anything about their personal experience from them, I am directly related as a second-generation hibakusha – survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.”

Listen:

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    Untitled Jackie Sedley

Screening details:

What: The Vow From Hiroshima screening and discussion with producer and co-writer Mitchie Takeuchi.

Where: Naropa University’s Performing Arts Center.

When: Wednesday, April 24 at 12 p.m.

 

The Vow From Hiroshima will also be airing on Rocky Mountain PBS KRMA World & KRMZ World on Sunday, May 26th, at 5 p.m. MDT., and Thursday, May 30th, at 3 a.m. MDT and 9 a.m. MDT.

 

Transcript:

Jackie Sedley: 8:10 on listener-supported KGNU. You’re listening to The Morning Magazine. I’m Jackie Sedley.

Back in the late 80s, KGNU cut its teeth with stories of Rocky Flats, which is still a very prominent topic on our airwaves. A couple of weeks ago, we had community activists and members of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center updating us on the current nuclear waste conditions of Rocky Flats.

This week, another nuclear disaster takes center stage in Boulder – the atomic bombs detonated by the United States over Hiroshima in 1945. Naropa University is hosting a film screening of The Vow from Hiroshima tomorrow, in honor of Earth Justice Day, an annual event at the university dedicated to conversations about environmental and social justice on campus and beyond.

In studio with us this morning is Mitchie Takeuchi, producer and co-writer of the film The Vow from Hiroshima. Mitchie, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

Mitchie Takeuchi: Thank you so much for your introduction, and I’m so happy to be in this beautiful Boulder, Colorado on Earth Day week. Thank you.

Sedley: We’re happy to have you.

So, so before we get into the details of the film, I wanted to ask about your personal connection to Hiroshima, since I know there’s some background there.

Takeuchi: Mm hmm. Okay. Um, I grew up in Hiroshima. Well, my grandparents and my mother survived the atomic bombing on August 6th, 1945. And, uh, my grandfather at that time was the head of the Red Cross Hospital, which he was transferred from Tokyo to found in Hiroshima in 1937.

So, he experienced the atomic bombing at the Red Cross Hospital, and, you know, I have all these memories that I have heard, but, uh, and then my mother, who is, who was his daughter, actually went in to look for [her] father two days later from northern part of Hiroshima into the central part of Hiroshima and then she found the, um, seriously injured own father at the hospital and she ended up staying there for several days to take care of him so that he could give directives to the medical staff then. So, uh, she experienced the atomic bomb, uh, radiation. So, even though I didn’t really hear anything about their personal experience from them, I am directly related as a second-generation hibakusha, survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

Sedley: I, I can’t help but be struck by the fact that, that nobody in your family talked to you about this. I, I know that you said before we got on air that your family members have really remained mostly silent and that you weren’t really conscious of the atomic bombing despite growing up there. Is there a culture of silence around the catastrophe? And can you speak on that?

Takeuchi: Yes. Well, in general, in Japan, there is a cultural. Uh, cultural, um, factor that, um, here in Japan, in Japan, people don’t like to complain. So that, uh, a lot of atomic survivors, atomic bomb survivors, who were so thankful about surviving, and they had to face the rebuilding of their lives immediately, I think they really focused on rebuilding, and did not want to dwell on what has happened to them. So there is a certain kind of pride and cultural virtue. There is one, that is one factor, right? And then, when it comes to atomic bombing experience, because at the beginning nobody knew how destructive that impact of a nuclear weapon was, really, because it was a first use, right? But because of the radiation impact, there was stigma.

Attached to being the survival of the atomic bombing, which was the concern for the future, well, impact of the, uh, impact on the health of the survivors, and also, uh, future, future impact for that, uh, second and third generation, um, people. So that, often, people. The surviving family did not want to discuss it because that could be, um, that could be, they could be possibly, uh, discriminating, discriminated for jobs or even like a marriage.

Because of the, uh, you know, possibility of having the, um, unhealthy children and so on, therefore, people felt that they did not want to share it. with outside people. So there is two layers for the reason.

Sedley: So then what led you to gain exposure to the history if you didn’t know about it until, how, how recently would you say you were exposed to it?

Takeuchi: Yes, yes. That’s an excellent question. Well, even though I was so close to the, um, experience of the impact of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima, right? As I said, I was so eager to live my own life. And then, you know, I really wanted to come to the United States to study psychology and so forth and so on. And I did that.

And then I have been living in New York City for decades and having this independent sort of you know, work oriented life until maybe two, uh, 13, 14 years ago, I really met by a group of American educators who would, uh, one, Kathleen Sullivan, who actually have a strong tie in this community, and also, uh, Robert Kronquist, uh, who is an amazing educator in New York, and, uh, They created this program called Hibakusha Stories, which is to invite the Hibakusha A-bomb survivors to New York City and visit high schools so the high school students have the experience, uh, hearing about the first hand, uh, uh, testimony.

But anyway, I met this group of people by pure accident as a pinch hitter, uh, interpreter, volunteer interpreter, and even without knowing what that was all about. And I was shocked to see, wow, there was this American educators bringing in this hibakusha people to all these places. And I was, uh, wow. And, uh, I was kind of shocked to see it, because I’d never seen anything like that in New York, in my circle.

Then, it kind of really moved me, and then I was thinking, “Gosh, all these people are really trying to spread the words, right? So that we can get rid of nuclear weapons, right? And me, coming from the family who survived, who actually suffered so much from the atomic bomb, I’m not doing anything.” And that really raised red flag.

And that was the beginning how I got involved.

Sedley: Mm. Okay, so now about your involvement, about The Vow from Hiroshima, your film, it follows the story of a, of a survivor, right? Tell us, tell us a bit about her.

Takeuchi: Oh, Setsuko?

Sedley: Mm-Hmm.

Takeuchi: So I met Setsuko Thurlow, this amazing campaigner social worker activist who actually made the acceptance speech of ICAN – International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons – won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 and she was a part of this program and, uh, I met her through that. And then we actually went to the same girl school. in Hiroshima, and that really made us feel very close. And, uh, she started to stay in my apartment whenever she came to New York City, and we got bonded, and then I really learned so much from her, what she has been doing and why.

Sedley: So the film follows, follows her story as well as activism and some of the historic negotiations of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. I also read, uh, in the online description of the film, that you created it in part because you wanted “to share what really happened under the mushroom cloud.” So I wanted to ask you in the last minute or so here: having been in relationship with survivors and, and making this documentary, what are some of the important lessons you feel we need to understand as a community, particularly in the, in the Western world?

Takeuchi: I really feel that, um, I really feel that, uh, people really don’t know what happened under the mushroom cloud. And it’s important to, I really want to share the story and inspire people, American people, because I know once they know, they are going to wonder and they’re going to take actions. And I’m really hopeful and I’m so happy to share this film at Naropa University tomorrow.

Sedley: Mitchie Takeuchi, producer and co-writer of The Vow from Hiroshima, thank you so much for speaking with us this morning.

Takeuchi: Thank you so much.

You can watch The Vow from Hiroshima at Naropa University’s Performing Arts Center tomorrow, April 24th, at 12 p.m. The screening will be followed by a discussion with Mitchie . It will also be airing on Rocky Mountain PBS on Sunday, May 26th at 5 p.m. Mountain Time.

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Jackie Sedley

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