Saturday, May 9, 2009

Three Survivors of Hiroshima at the Ohio Theatre

The very best thing about my job is that almost every night I am invited (by playwrights, actors, directors, etc.) to take a journey, where I generally meet intriguing people, go unusual and unexpected places, and learn something new about the human condition.

Sometimes, there's a bonus on top of that experience--which is what happened to me last night.

I was invited to see the very first preview of Chiori Miyagawa's new play I Have Been to Hiroshima Mon Amour at the Ohio Theatre. It's a beautiful piece--I'll have a review for everybody to read next week. It's about a Japanese man whose fiancee was killed at Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and a French actress whom he meets in Hiroshima 14 years later; and also about a group of contemporary Americans watching Alain Resnais's film Hiroshima Mon Amour.

What made last night's performance special was the fact that three survivors of Hiroshima were in the audience as honored guests:
  • Ms. Toshiko Tanaka was six years old and was burned during the bombing. She explained that her family's home had been right near Ground Zero in Hiroshima but they had been forced by the government to move shortly before the bombing and so escaped certain death as a result.
  • Mr. Hiro Iso was four years old. His immediate family survived the bombing (though his uncle and cousins did not) and they relocated to the countryside where it was "clean" and never returned to Hiroshima.
  • Mr. Takehisa Yamamoto was a year old in 1945. He told an astonishing story about his father, a teacher in Hiroshima on the day of the bombing: he was shielded from the intense heat by a tree, and was thrown to the ground by the impact. When he regained consciousness, there was not a trace of any of his students.

Our three guests watched the play with us, then delivered some brief remarks and participated in a question and answer session (some of the highlights of which I have just imparted).

Ms. Tanaka spoke for all three when she said that at 70 she is not sure how much longer she will be able to recount her experiences to young people--and that young people, in America and Japan, do not know enough about what happened on August 6, 1945 at Hiroshima and on August 9, 1945 at Nagasaki. These three survivors are in New York City as guests of Youth Arts New York and have toured schools in NYC and around the world to share their experiences.

I felt enormously privileged to have been in the audience, to hear first hand from these three about an event I know too little about. I am grateful to Chiori for inviting me to this special evening, and to all the folks at Voice and Vision and Crossing Jamaica Avenue, producers of I Have Been to Hiroshima Mon Amour, for making it possible.

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