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Film on bomb-hit Hiroshima girl Sadako to show her compassion through origami cranes

Masahiro Sasaki, left, and his son Sumiyuki Sasaki, hold a portrait of Sadako Sasaki and talk about an upcoming documentary film about the young atomic bombing victim, in the city of Nakagawa, Fukuoka Prefecture, on Jan. 15, 2021. (Mainichi/Yusaku Yoshikawa)

FUKUOKA -- A documentary film currently in the making features Sadako Sasaki, an atomic bomb victim who continued to fold origami paper cranes out of compassion for her family, right up until her death from leukemia at age 12.

    The documentary is being created by Sadako's older brother Masahiro, 79, a resident of the Fukuoka Prefecture city of Nakagawa in southwestern Japan, and others. The film shows how considerate the girl was of those around her while battling the disease right up to her death.

    Sadako Sasaki was exposed to radiation from the A-bomb at the age of 2 near her house in the Kusunokicho district in the city of Hiroshima's Nishi Ward -- about 1.7 kilometers from the bomb's hypocenter -- when it was dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. She was also exposed to the radioactive "black rain" that fell on the city and surrounding areas in the immediate aftermath of the bombing. She was diagnosed with leukemia caused by radiation exposure during the winter of her sixth year in elementary school, and passed away in October 1955 when she was a first-year junior high school student.

    Sadako learned about "orizuru" paper cranes and folded over 1,500 of them in her hospital bed for three months until her death, while using a needle to thoroughly make creases on candy wrappers and celluloid film that wrapped powder medicine. Praying not only for her own recovery but also for others seemed to propel Sadako to fold the paper cranes.

    She apparently showed no signs of pain, suffering, or concern to her family during her hospitalization. Instead, she sympathized with her father Shigeo, who was struggling to pay expenses for her treatment while shouldering an acquaintance's debt, and folded the cranes while wishing for her father's debt to be gone as soon as possible. She reminded her mother Fujiko to "keep it a secret from dad or he'll get worried." Both her parents are no more now.

    A paper crane folded by Sadako Sasaki, who passed away at age 12 due to leukemia caused by radiation exposure from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, is seen at Hiroshima municipal Tojo elementary school in the city's Higashi Ward, in this Aug. 6, 2007 file photo. (Mainichi/Masahiro Ogawa)

    Sadako was also thoughtful of her mother who paid visits to the hospital while also being busy with caring for her younger siblings, and would tell her mom, "It's alright, you go home." Meanwhile, she viewed her medical chart secretly before hiding the paper recording her white blood cell count in her bed. Although she must have been battling with fear of her approaching death, she put on a brave face in front of her family.

    Following Sadako's death, her classmates and other individuals began to collect donations to build a statue in memory of the brave girl, and such efforts eventually spread across Japan. Sadako became widely known throughout the country along with her love of paper cranes and as a model for the Children's Peace Monument at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which was completed in May 1958.

    In 2007, Sadako's brother Masahiro donated one paper crane folded by Sadako to the 9/11 Tribute Center in New York, which honors the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. This opportunity led Masahiro and his second son Yuji, 50, who is a singer, to establish the incorporated nonprofit organization Sadako Legacy in 2009. They have visited elementary and junior high schools across Japan, and gave lectures and delivered songs to convey the wishes of Sadako contained in the folded paper cranes.

    Meanwhile, Masahiro also donated Sadako's paper cranes to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Missouri and a national park at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The paper crane included in the exhibition at Pearl Harbor is on display with a paper crane folded by former U.S. President Barack Obama during his visit to Hiroshima in 2016.

    U.S. President Harry Truman's grandson Clifton Truman Daniel is seen in Los Angeles in this May 29, 2016 file photo. (Mainichi/Hiromi Nagano)

    The documentary film will mark the culmination of Masahiro's efforts to preserve and share his sister's memory. Following heart surgery in 2019, he became determined to "leave behind Sadako's thoughts in film while I can." He initiated the production of the documentary, tentatively titled, "Paper Crane 'Orizuru' Sadako Legacy," or "Orizuru no Kiseki" (roughly translating to "The Miracle of the Paper Cranes"), with sons Yuji and Sumiyuki, 54, and gathered filming staff through Yuji's connections.

    Clifton Truman Daniel, the grandson of the 33rd U.S. President Harry Truman, who decided to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and who helped arrange to have the paper cranes displayed at Pearl Harbor, was interviewed for the film. The documentary also focuses on a plan to donate a flame taken from the "Fire of Peace" -- the remaining flames of the Hiroshima A-bomb, which continue to burn in the "Tower of Peace" in the city of Yame in Fukuoka Prefecture -- in time for the ceremony at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 8 this year, which marks the 80th anniversary of the United States declaring war on Japan during World War II.

    Why are Sadako's paper cranes moving the hearts of people by transcending time? Masahiro feels that this is because the cranes contain the compassion of Sadako, who did not forget to be thoughtful toward others even before her death. He said, "Compassion toward others is the starting point for human beings. Peace is born from kindness to those around you. I'd like to convey this through the attitudes of Sadako known to her family, and through the words of those who came in touch with Sadako's thoughts through her paper cranes."

    (Japanese original by Yusaku Yoshikawa, Kyushu News Department)

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